Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – Kia Motors America will unveil a production version of its first alternative- powertrain vehicle at an upcoming U.S. auto show.

KMA marketing chief Michael Sprague, speaking to Ward’s on the sidelines of the Chicago auto show here, is tight-lipped on details of the vehicle, saying only it will be “a global reveal.”

KMA officials previously have said Kia will offer a hybrid-electric version of the new Optima sedan as a ’12 model. The Optima hybrid’s technology is expected to mimic that of its Hyundai sister-brand’s upcoming Sonata hybrid that goes on sale later this year in the U.S.

Kia already is retailing the Forte hybrid in its home market of South Korea with an engine that runs on liquefied petroleum.

Sprague is pleased with the early success of Kia’s new ’11 Sorento cross/utility vehicle. The CUV was the third best-selling model in its segment in January, despite its mid-month launch, he says.

Ward’s data shows Kia sold 7,398 ’11 Sorentos last month.

Sprague says Kia is drawing buyers new to the brand with the redesigned CUV. “With one month of sales, a lot of the information we’re getting is anecdotal through our dealers. “(But) we’re getting a lot of new customers coming in.”

Most are people trading in what he calls “traditional SUVs,” such as “Jeeps and (Ford) Explorers – kind of what we expected.”

With the fierce winter weather along the East Coast and heavy rains on the West Coast, both strong Kia markets, Sprague says the Sorento’s February sales have slowed their pace. But he expects demand to pick up later this month.

Kia is selling some vehicles to former Toyota owners, but Sprague can’t say how many units. Kia, unlike Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. or the U.S. Big Three, did not institute marketing initiatives targeting Toyota customers in light of the Japanese auto maker’s recent high-profile recall announcements.

“We’re not going out actively saying we’ve got incentives,” he says. “We’re just saying we’ve got great product, backed up by our 10-year, 100,000-mile (160,930-km) warranty.”

Kia is in the middle of a new-product blitz for the U.S. Having launched the Soul, Forte, Forte Koup and Sorento models last year and early this year, the auto maker now is prepping a new Sorento variant, the sport-tuned Sorento SX, as well as the standard gas-engine Optima.

The Sorento SX will debut Kia’s UVO in-car infotainment system designed by Microsoft Corp. Sprague says UVO will launch in all next-generation Kia vehicles. However, one youth-focused model will see UVO installed as a technology upgrade, well before its next generation or even mid-cycle refresh.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com