Hybrid to star
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.’’