Why is Kia Burying the Fact that the Niro is a Hybrid?


Check out the marketing campaign for the new Kia Niro crossover and the term ‘hybrid’ is conspicuously absent.

“We call this the Kia Niro,” as one new TV spot goes, “but that’s only because ‘breakthrough, game-changing crossover that gets over 40 miles per gallon combined and is really fun to drive’ just wouldn’t fit on the back.”

And they’re all like that. It’s an unconventional — and, frankly, somewhat odd — approach to market the brand’s first standalone hybrid vehicle as anything but. So why publicly disregard what’s arguably the crossover’s greatest selling feature? After all, the Niro was recently named a Guinness World Record holder for lowest fuel consumption by a hybrid vehicle — a direct result of its combination gas-electric powertrain.

ALSO SEE: Kia’s First Dedicated Hybrid Has Set a World Record

“We could go down that path,” Steve Carter, Kia’s marketing director in Canada, said of promoting the Niro as a hybrid, “but we’ve chosen to go in another direction. If you look at where customer interests are going, they’re certainly moving out of the car segments and into the crossover segments, and in particular compacts and subcompacts.”

But what does that have to do with staying mum on the Niro’s mildly electrified powertrain? It’s not as if the automaker is scared to cop to the electrons coursing through the crossover — “we’re not afraid to say it’s a hybrid,” Carter said — or simply pass its impressive fuel economy off as black magic. Rather, it has everything to do with the avoiding the negative connotations associated with hybrids in a market that’s still averse to them.

Perennially sluggish sales would suggest the average buyer still doesn’t seem to trust the idea of electrification of their car, however mildly. And this despite hybrids existing in their current form for two decades. Not helping matters are current gas prices, which remain low enough to keep fuel economy low on the shopping list for most buyers.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Kia Niro Review

“We think that we don’t have to play up the hybrid characteristics, because if you look at fuel economy for a (crossover) buyer it’s not No. 1 on the list,” Carter said. “People are looking for value for money, reliability and dependability, styling, and storage capacity — and then there’s fuel economy.”

When it comes to those first four factors — value, reliability, styling and space — Kia seems to have it figured out. The Niro has been priced strategically, coming in at just $22,890 ($24,995 in Canada) to undercut the Toyota Prius sedan by a hefty margin. It also offers the larger interior dimensions of a crossover, and is sewn up in an attractive package. And while it’s still too early to judge the Niro’s reliability, its chances of passing that test are higher now than ever before after Kia topped J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study less than a year ago. Oh, and it just so happens to achieve a combined consumption of as much as 50 miles per gallon (4.7 L/100 km).

“If you’re looking at a (Toyota) Prius you’re looking for great fuel economy and an environmentally friendly vehicle,” Carter said. “For us, we think we can deliver on (that) but you can get all the other things you’re looking for if you’re looking for a subcompact crossover.”

ALSO SEE: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Review

Kia Canada’s corporate communications manager, John Adzija, echoed that sentiment, and said the Niro should appeal to a wide range of customers, with the impressive fuel economy acting as the icing on the cake.

“The hybrid is a bonus,” he said. “It’s not something we’re scared of, but we’re not focusing on it. It’s fun, it’s versatile and, by the way, it gets great fuel economy and it happens to be a hybrid.”