Korean automaker Kia (000270.KS) kicked off this year’s New York Auto Show with a bang, with world premieres for two of its best-selling models.
First, the all-new for 2023 compact Kia Niro. The Niro is something of a ‘tweaner’ vehicle, bridging the gap between a crossover and a small compact sedan, but it also bridges the gap, if you will, between Kia’s internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and its full electric range, like the EV6 and EV7.
“The Niro is the trio of electrification, there are three distinct powertrains,” Kia America CEO Steve Center told Yahoo Finance. “The first car is a hybrid. The second is a plug-in hybrid, which has around 30 miles of full electric range. And then you have the all-electric Niro, which is a 250-mile pure electric car.
The Niro has been one of Kia’s best sellers, with sales more than doubling in the first quarter of this year compared to last year. And Center believes a big part of that success is due to the flexibility of the product line.
“It’s actually the gateway to electrified products, and depending on someone’s life stage or life circumstances, you can have a hybrid, which doesn’t require any additional special treatment or charging. ; you have the plug-in, which requires some charging, gives you enough battery life to get by; and the electric vehicle, which is all-electric, which requires more planning and having a place to charge at home, perhaps, and at work,” says Center.
Kia’s all-electric offerings, the EV6 compact SUV and full-size EV9 production compact, were also on display in New York. Kia’s EV lineup will be built entirely using a dedicated EV platform shared with sister brand Hyundai (005380.KS), dubbed E-GMP. The Niro does not use this EV platform as it uses hybrid motors.
ICE and hybrid engines are still very popular in America, especially those paired with midsize and full-size SUVs. And one of Kia’s selling stars, the Telluride SUV, has also received significant updates ahead of its global debut in New York.
Since its introduction three years ago, Kia has sold more than 200,000 Telluride SUVs in the United States, with 75% of those buyers new to the Kia brand. And according to Kia, these buyers are also the most loyal in the midsize SUV segment when they return to the market to buy another midsize SUV.
“What we’re doing is adding some enhancements to allow it to keep pace with the rest of Kia’s lineup early in its lifecycle,” Center said. “We’ve changed the instrumentation for the fully curved display. We’ve included connectivity, which the current car doesn’t have. We’ve made some styling cue upgrades. We also have two additional models, the X -Line and the X-Pro, and the X-Pro being more off-road focused and its capabilities.
Center says customers have told Kia they want the flexibility to take the Telluride off the beaten path, especially younger buyers who tend to be “adventurous,” Center said.
As customers focus on Kia’s SUVs and crossovers, Center knows that in 5-7 years the brand will need to go where it thinks those customers will be, and it’s pretty candid about what that future will look like.
“More electric cars. We want to be the first electrified vehicle company in the world,” says Center. “Right now we’re number two in the United States, and the cars are all sold out.”
Pras Subramanian is senior automotive reporter at Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter and on instagram.
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