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Car and Driver: Kia Sees High Demand for Niro Hybrid Crossover, Plans Superbowl Ad Kickoff

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2017 Kia Niro hybridThe 2017 Kia Niro revealed at this year’s Chicago auto show will launch in the U.S. with what’s bound to be an expensive advertising campaign, starting as it does with the February 2017 telecast of the 51st NFL Superbowl in Houston. Hardly the most original choice by Kia’s marketing department, especially since the company claims that the car is already generating its own buzz as customers make inquiries at dealerships months ahead of Niro’s arrival here. It will have been on sale in Europe for months before the U.S.-market kickoff.

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Although the Niro sits on the same hybrid platform as the Hyundai Ioniq, Kia has distinguished its version from its conventional sister by making it a crossover. Indeed, by our reckoning, it will be the first crossover offered only in electrified forms, without a conventional drivetrain in the range. We expect the Niro to spawn a pure EV variant and probably also follow Ioniq’s lead with a plug-in PHEV model.

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“It does not look like a Prius because Prius customers are very loyal,” Thomas Oh, Kia’s Chief Operating Officer told us in Korea recently. “Many customers want small SUVs, including those looking for eco-friendly cars.”

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Kia Niro rear angle NEWS

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Niro and Ioniq share a 103-hp Atkinson-cycle 1.6-liter turbocharged engine and lightweight 1.56-kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack. A 43-hp electric motor is integrated with the transmission to yield a total combined output of 146 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. However, the Niro crossover looks completely different from the more conventional Ioniq sedan. The Ioniq does look much like a Korean take on the Prius, so it will be interesting to see which fares better in the U.S. market. For his part, Oh is bullish, predicting that Kia will sell 40,000 Niros in the U.S. in its first year—more units than the Optima Hybrid has ever managed—and he expects those numbers to grow tremendously as the segment expands.

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“This year, globally, eco-friendly cars are around two-million vehicles, with electric vehicles [representing] just 100,000 of that total,” Oh said. “By 2020, we expect eco-friendly to rise to around six-million [units], with 42 percent hybrid, 32 percent plug-in hybrid, and 27 percent electric. It makes sense to combine the technology with vehicle types that customers want to buy.” The regulatory environment overseas will help drive global growth in electrified vehicles, but in the U.S. where gasoline prices are low? It appears that Kia will have to set its prices aggressively low compared with other hybrids if Niro is to compete in the burgeoning subcompact crossover segment without a conventional powertrain variant.

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