Hy­brid to star

Herald Sun - Motoring - - On Road -

A PETROL-ELEC­TRIC fam­ily car, sim­i­lar to the Aus­tralian-made Camry hy­brid, will be one of Kia’s he­roes.

It will take a step be­yond Toy­ota’s flag­ship with a lithium-ion poly­mer bat­tery pack, but will not be built as a plug-in car, ac­cord­ing to Kia chief Hank Lee.

It’s most likely to be a ver­sion of the lat­est Op­tima, which has just out-sold the equiv­a­lent Hyundai in Korea and is com­ing to Aus­tralia next year.

‘‘From Jan­uary we will be build­ing a hy­brid. Full hy­brid, like the Camry,’’ Lee says.

‘‘We plan to utilise an ex­ist­ing body. We have al­ready de­vel­oped a left-hand­drive ver­sion and pro­duc­tion will be from De­cem­ber this year.

‘‘But the lay­out for right-hand drive is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent.

‘‘We are ne­go­ti­at­ing to cut the in­vest­ment . . . so we can do it.’’

Lee says Kia has a hi-tech drive un­der way in Korea as it works on ev­ery­thing from plug-in city cars to mod­els with hy­dro­gen fuel cells gen­er­at­ing on-board elec­tric­ity.

‘‘By 2013 most of our prod­uct will be new. That is our strength,’’ he says.

‘‘Even in the fi­nan­cial cri­sis we never stopped our new prod­uct devel­op­ment. That is our strength.

‘‘The new prod­uct keeps com­ing. And we will have some high-per­for­mance en­gines.’’

He says the lat­est Sportage is just the start, with the Op­tima com­ing early next year and the new Rio later in 2011.

‘‘For Rio, we bench­mark Toy­ota Yaris and Peu­geot 207,’’ he says.

But he stops short of a five-star safety com­mit­ment on ev­ery new Kia, un­less Aus­tralians are pre­pared to pay.

‘‘The technology is for five-star in all prod­ucts. In Amer­ica, with an en­try car, four stars is enough,’’ Lee says.

‘‘To achieve five-star we need ac­tive and pas­sive safety fea­tures. So it de­pends on the lo­cal needs.

‘‘If M.K. Kim (Aus­tralian man­ag­ing di­rec­tor) and his team wants five-star with the new Rio then he has to pay more.

‘‘And also the cus­tomer has to pay more. It’s a mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion.’’

But he rules out build­ing Kia cars for Aus­tralia out­side Korea, even if Hyundai is spread­ing its man­u­fac­tur­ing foot­print.

‘‘Duty now is 5 per cent and we are dis­cussing with the Aus­tralian Govern­ment a free-trade agree­ment. If both gov­ern­ments reach an agree­ment then why not from Korea? It’s not very far from here and no tar­iff.’’

PAUL GOVER

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