It's time for the Chicago Auto Show, so it's no surprise that Kia has warmed up the chilly February air here with a green vehicle debut. This year it was the Niro, the brand's first dedicated hybrid, and it follows past Chicago debuts like the Soul EV and the Optima Hybrid. Like those vehicles, the Niro is not going to take long to get from the concept stage to showroom.

Steve Kosowski, Kia Niro project manager, told AutoblogGreen that the first Niro hybrids will arrive in all 50 US states in about 11 months. The Niro will only be offered as a hybrid – both with a plug and without – but Kosowski could not say when the PHEV will arrive, other than, "a little later in the lifecycle." The standard hybrid will be certified as a 2017 model-year vehicle, but the PHEV might become a 2018, or even later.

A PHEV will arrive "a little later in the lifecycle."

Kia is on a mission (with Hyundai, see below) as it develops the Niro to get incredibly high fuel economy. Kosowski said that the defining mantra was, "Let's see what we can do when the resources are focused on hitting 50 miles per gallon and the only way the car is going to be built is with an electrified powertrain," he said.

  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia
  • Image Credit: Kia


Knowing that the Niro would have a battery allowed Kia and Hyundai engineers to plan things out together, because the Niro will share a lot of components with the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq. "The whole powertrain is essentially shared between the two," Kosowski said. "There are a few little tuning differences, but it's a 1.6 GDI, four-cylinder from the Kappa engine family that is the basis for both cars. The motor is sandwiched between the engine and the transmission, there's a clutch there. And the DCT is also shared between both cars." They both ride on the same 103-inch wheelbase, and the track width is similar as well. There might be some changes with the ratios and the tunings, Kosowski said, but the two companies are obviously working together to make these two vehicles very real, very soon. The main difference between the Niro and the Ioniq that the Kia is a CUV while the Hyundai is a sedan.

"The market for electrified vehicles is changing rapidly." - Steve Kosowski


Going into the process with electrification in mind meant "that the engineering, the platform layout, the way the car crashes, the way the car comes together, the way the car is assembled, all of that is engineered around having a battery," Kosowski said.

Speaking of a battery, there just might be room in the Niro for a pack big enough to propel the C-segment vehicle without ever relying on a gas engine. Kosowski would of course not confirm an all-electric version of the Niro, but did say that, "The market for electrified vehicles is changing rapidly. [There's] the Bolt, the Model 3, we know Ford is up to something. Honda has essentially announced that they're going to do a dedicated electric car and a PHEV off the new Clarity, so there is a lot of investment going into this. We aren't ready to announce anything. We're here today to announce the Niro, and that's where we're at."

Hmm, maybe at next year's Chicago show?

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