Kia is making its belated entry into electric propulsion with the launch of its first gas-electric model, the 2011 Optima Hybrid, at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
The new model, similar in underlying technology to the new Sonata hybrid sold by Korean sibling Hyundai, is expected to push the fuel efficiency of the midsize sedan to more than 40 mpg.
Tom Loveless, Kia vice president of sales, said while the hybrid market is small, “it’s a growing segment. The interest in alternative powertrains is continuing to grow,” he said.
Kia’s first-ever hybrid in the U.S. will attract those looking for a striking and well-equipped sedan that does not sacrifice style, comfort, performance or value for fuel efficiency, Loveless said.
As with the new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia is breaking with the rest of the industry by opting for lithium-ion rather than nickel-metal hydride batteries. That is intended to let the Kia Optima Hybrid hold up to 25% more of a charge, so the battery is more likely to have usable energy available when needed to either give the vehicle a boost at launch – or to be driven in electric mode.
The power and energy density of a Lion battery also allowed Kia engineers to create a lighter and more compact battery pack, weighing in at just 95.9 pounds – 28 pounds less than the 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid’s nickel metal hydride pack , further boosting fuel economy and expanding Optima’s cargo space.
The 2011 Optima Hybrid uses a full parallel hybrid system and can be driven in zero-emission, full-electric drive mode at speeds up to 62 miles per hour or in blended gas-electric mode at any speed. When the car comes to a stop and the electrical load is low, the engine shuts off to completely eliminate idle fuel consumption and emissions, the maker noted.
Significantly, the battery pack is being provided by Korea’s LG Chem. That’s the same firm producing the LIon pack for the new Chevrolet Volt. And LG Chem will make the batteries for the Focus Electric model Ford will begin producing in 2011.
“By adding our first-ever hybrid in the U.S. to the Optima lineup we are providing consumers with three powerful and fuel-efficient powertrain choices, and continuing Kia’s philosophy of offering stylish, value-packed vehicles with outstanding fuel efficiency,” said Michael Sprague, vice president, marketing & communications, KMA.