A new development in hybrid motoring promises to open the door to fresh opportunities for Kia in an area of the fleet market set for rapid growth over the next few years.
But officials at the Korean firm’s UK subsidiary have already decided that the first utility vehicle to come with a petrol-electric powertrain will not be made available to daily rental fleets when it reaches the showrooms this month.
The combination of a 1.6-litre engine and a 32kW motor should allow the Niro crossover to cater for fresh potential in the corporate market, believes John Hargreaves, general manager of fleet and remarketing.
“We are looking to concentrate our efforts on standard channels such as small businesses, medium fleets, public sector and contract hire,” he told Fleet News as the Niro was being launched in Spain. “We want a good presence in fleet, but not one that is achieved at any cost. So there will be no rental business with this car.
“Our fleet volumes are increasing and we are becoming less involved in the daily rental sector because we don’t need it. At 2.9% of total fleet registrations, the level of our business is now running at almost double what it was five years ago and there’s no doubt that almost all of the normal channels represent major growth opportunities.”
Only 400 to 500 examples of the chunky, plastic-clad model are likely to figure in the 45,000 fleet registrations Hargreaves is targeting for this year, but the car is still regarded as representing a significant contribution to Kia’s plans to be offering more alternatively-powered vehicles by the end of the decade.
“This car fits in well between the ceed and the Sportage in size and bridges a gap in the market that we think is not covered,” he said. “It’s an important addition to our line-up and we expect its low emission performance will appeal to business users.
“Our toe-in-the-water exercise with the Soul EV last year has been a success, with 200 sales to-date and we’re now making further investment so the whole dealer network will be capable of maintaining more hybrid, plug-in hybrid and EV models in future.”
Four versions will be available, two fitted with 18-inch wheels to give tail-pipe emissions of 101g/km, but fleets are expected to show greater interest in the versions on 16-inch rims which have emissions of 88g/km.
Commercial director Simon Hetherington added: “In the first six months of this year, SUV sales were up by 25% in the UK and the hybrid market also grew by 23%, so we’re introducing this car at just the right time. The interest shown so far suggests we’re being conservative in our forecasting. I think fleets could well account for more than half of sales.”
Despite being shorter than the Sportage, the Niro sits on a longer wheelbase to provide a surprisingly spacious interior with generous head and legroom. Thanks to positioning the lithium-ion battery pack next to the fuel tank under the rear seat, boot capacity is a generous 427 litres and load volume, with rear seats folded, is 1,425 litres.
All versions will have alloy wheels and digital radio. The mid-range 2 version, which has the smaller alloy rims, comes with sat-nav, reversing camera, lane keeping assist, automatic climate control, cruise control, heated and folding door mirrors, privacy glass and roof rails as standard.
A slightly higher ground clearance and wide opening doors allow easy access to a versatile interior with good detailing and an uncluttered dashboard with clear instrumentation and neat switchgear.
Smart away from rest, the Niro is nimble and makes hardly any mechanical noise unless maximum revs are needed for overtaking. Switching from petrol to electric power is imperceptible and the smooth-changing six-speed dual clutch transmission plays a key role in maintaining quiet, unruffled progress.
Multilink rear suspension helps keep body roll in check through corners and, with composed handling and a smooth ride over most surfaces, this is a no-compromise hybrid offering comfortable and relaxing multi-purpose transport with a potential range of more than 600 miles from its 45-litre fuel tank.