There’s a chance that Kia Australia may offer two hybrid models within the next 24 months, with the brand considering the potential of both the Kia Niro small SUV and Kia Optima Hybrid.
The company’s chief operating officer, Damien Meredith, said such a strategy would make more sense than just offering one hybrid on its own.
“I think that if you brought in an SUV hybrid, I think naturally the flow would be that you would bring in a passenger hybrid,” he said when asked if the Niro hybrid SUV was on the cards for a local launch.
The Niro features a petrol-electric drivetrain consisting of a 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol engine teamed to a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, with that drive unit working in conjunction with a 32kW electric motor. Combined power is rated at 110kW and 265Nm.
The brand will put the Niro on sale in 2017 in some markets, and it’s not yet decided if the small high-rider will form a part of the Australian range for a number of reasons – pricing is one, and marketability is another.
The Optima Hybrid has been under consideration for a bit longer, but the brand is conscious that the mid-sized sedan market is tough. In fact, it said in 2015 that it couldn't make a business case for the petrol-electric Optima.
“Obviously in America, that medium segment is huge, but if you start a story on hybrids, you don’t just cut it off there,” Meredith said of a potential two-prong hybrid strategy.
When asked what was stopping the Optima Hybrid from being sold in Australia, Meredith replied frankly “nothing really”.
“It’s just not in our model line-up at this point in time. Again, it’s a tough segment – I think you’ve got to earn your stripes in those situations, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Meredith is seemingly keen on government incentives for alternative-energy models, and it seems clear that if there were to be some sort of subsidisation for more efficient models, Kia could think more seriously about hybrids here.
“Government legislation will drive it,” he said of the broader uptake in hybrid and electric vehicles.
“I’m a great believer that governments around the world have to start making those decisions as to what can be driven in specific areas and what can’t be driven in specific areas. We all drive around on Saturday mornings around Sydney and it has gotten worse.
“Those two things, technology and legislation, drive what will be allowable and what won’t be allowable,” he said.
With the market-leading Toyota Camry – including its hybrid variant – to be imported from 2018 after local production wraps up, there may be a stronger case for smaller brands to put forward about incentives for hybrid and electric models as the government won’t be protecting the local manufacturing industry anymore.
As for the Niro, it's only a bit smaller than the Sportage, so it presumably wouldn’t be a suitable small SUV offering in the compact SUV segment that is currently dominated by the Mazda CX-3. Meredith said that he won’t bring it as a niche offering, and the same presumably goes for the Optima Hybrid.
“Everyone tells me Niro is a fantastic car. We’ll just wait and see.
“If you bring an SUV in, you don’t want to sell 10 a month. You want to get a bit of oomph behind it,” he said.