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Kia Niro hybrid back on local cards

Green machine: The Niro small SUV is a chance to make it into Australian Kia showrooms in the not-too-distant future.

Two-tier hybrid strategy being assessed but Kia still sees issues

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Kia logo6 Jun 2016

KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) chief operating officer Damien Meredith has joined a growing industry chorus calling for the implementation of local emissions regulations at a time when the Niro hybrid SUV and Optima hybrid are both being reassessed internally.

Speaking with GoAuto at a media lunch in Sydney this week, Mr Meredith revealed the car-maker's South Korean parent company has been pushing the local outpost to introduce the Niro compact SUV, which was revealed at the Chicago motor show in February.

“Niro is something that our product planning guys are looking at really, really seriously,” Mr Meredith said.

“KMC (Kia Motor Corporation) are really keen for us to take Niro, we’ve just got to make sure that you can get some critical mass out of everything that comes into the marketplace.” Mr Meredith outlined several potential issues with introducing the Niro locally, however, and explained why KMAu had initially rejected the hybrid-only model for the local market.

“You’ve got a platform that is a little bit smaller than Sportage but because of its engine structure being a hybrid, it’s more expensive,” he said, all but confirming the Niro would have to be priced beyond $30,000 plus on-road costs, when a Toyota Prius starts at $34,990 plus on-road costs.

“I’m not sure how we could get that to work. It’s too early in us talking to Korea about it.” Mr Meredith confessed that even with premium pricing the Niro would still “probably” sell better than the company’s Soul compact wagon, which has averaged just seven sales per month this year.

“But if you introduce an SUV you don’t want to sell 10 per month. (You’d want to) get a bit of oomph behind it,” he added.

The Niro has a 30mm-longer wheelbase than the Sportage. Its hybrid powertrain makes 108kW of power and 264Nm of torque thanks to a combination of 76kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and 32kW electric motor, with official fuel consumption of 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres.

The Prius liftback consumes 3.4L/100km.

Mr Meredith confirmed that different drivetrain options were being considered for the Niro beyond the hybrid powertrain, but nothing has yet been announced.

“How we step it (Niro) out is part of the strategy that we’ll talk to KMC (Kia Motor Corporation) about,” he said.

Mr Meredith said local Saturday morning traffic that “has gotten worse” was his personal reminder that emissions legislation should be introduced in cities. Incentives for fuel-efficient cars such as the Niro would also would aid the business case for its introduction.

“Technology will drive that (fuel-efficient cars’ popularity), legislation will drive that.

“Technology and legislation will drive what will be available and what won’t be available.

“I’m a great believer that governments around the world have to start to make decisions around what can be driven in specific areas and what can’t be driven in specific areas.” Asked whether Kia has participated in the federal government’s emissions legislation forums, which discuss with stakeholders including car manufacturers the possibility of introducing fuel-efficient vehicle incentives, Mr Meredith stated: “We work through all those areas with the FCAI (Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries) and support their position.” However if the Niro gets the green light for Australia, Mr Meredith also said it would make sense to introduce more than one hybrid vehicle to the market, with the petrol-electric Optima the obvious candidate.

“I think that if you brought in an SUV hybrid, naturally the flow would be that you bring in a passenger hybrid,” he said.

“I think if you start a story on hybrids you don’t just cut it off there. You flow it out into the rest of the range.” Mr Meredith said that there was “nothing really” stopping the Optima hybrid from joining the range Down Under, but he admitted that the mid-size sedan was playing in a “tough segment.” However he added, “You’ve got to earn your stripes in these situations (hybrids) but you’ve got to start somewhere.” The Optima hybrid uses a 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine and 38kW electric motor for a total 144kW while a plug-in hybrid version gets a larger 50kW electric motor teamed with 1.6L/100km official consumption.

Without local incentives or market popularity for hybrids, a greater priority for KMAu is the small SUV contender that initially wore the Niro nameplate in concept guise in 2013, but has not yet been viewed in production form.

“In our model line-up it would be great to get a CX-3 competitor,” Mr Meredith added.

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