The Kia Niro Is A Hit, Thanks Be Unto TTAC (And The Crossover-Hungry Universe)
By Timothy Cain on May 8, 2017
It’s a hybrid. It’s attractive. It’s affordable. It’s the Kia Niro. Launched at the beginning of 2017, the Kia Niro is already proving to be a surprisingly successful hit for Kia Motors America.
As competitors quickly fade into the background, Niro volume is rising steadily each month, with the Kia attracting buyers for a wide variety of reasons, not just fuel efficiency.
In fact, the Kia Niro isn’t that fuel efficient compared with other dedicated hybrids on the market today.
But the Kia Niro is a crossover. (Allegedly.) And Niro’s amalgam of characteristics — hybrid, design, affordability, crossover image — has returned a degree of sales success simply not enjoyed by most dedicated greenmobiles.
Granted, the Kia Niro can’t yet compete with the venerable Toyota Prius, even in what will likely turn out to be the Prius’s worst year since 2004. In April 2017, the Prius outsold the the fledgling Kia Niro by nearly two to one.
Likewise, the Kia Niro doesn’t measure up to an abnormally strong start to the year from the Ford Fusion Hybrid, according to HybridCars.com. The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, a hit for one of the most popular utility vehicle nameplates in America, outsold the Kia Niro by a five to four margin in April, as well. (Both the Fusion and RAV4 are, quite obviously, not dedicated hybrid models but rather variants of mainstream vehicles.)
But the Kia Niro — in only its third full month, with limited inventory, battling a platform-sharing partner launching at Hyundai, and while operating in a showroom where Kia’s other vehicles tumbled 11 percent — sold half again more often than the Cadenza, K900, and Rio combined. In other words, Kia’s most recent niche-market car is filling a much larger niche than its other niche fillers.
Back to the more direct green car rivalries, the Niro’s unique proposition is obviously paying off early on in its tenure.
• The Niro outsold the Toyota Prius V and Ford C-Max, combined, by a 544-unit margin in April 2017.
• The Niro was more than twice as popular as the Hyundai Ioniq with which it shares underpinnings.
• Combined sales of the Chevrolet Volt and Bolt were only barely more numerous than the Niro’s 2,939-unit April tally.
• The all-electric Nissan Leaf, while reporting an eighth consecutive year-over-year improvement, generated 1,063 sales, little more than one-third of the Niro’s total.
While cars such as the nearly seven-year-old Leaf and longer-range Bolt are more likely to generate headlines, only four times in the Leaf’s 77-month U.S. history has it sold more copies than the new Kia Niro did in April. The Bolt, which launched around the same time as the Niro, has produced 2,865 fewer sales to date.
And why wouldn’t the Kia Niro generate higher volume in the U.S. market? It’s priced from only $23,785, or $1,855 less expensive than the Toyota Prius. In a hybrid market that earns little more than 2 percent of the U.S. auto industry’s volume, the Kia Niro is one of only two utility vehicle (allegedly) hybrids with a base price under $30,000. It lacks the all-wheel-drive option and tall roof that should be requirements for labelling something a crossover, but it’s a handsome little wagon, regardless.
And why is it selling so well, relatively speaking? “We credit Mark Stevenson’s fine review earlier this year,” Kia’s director of communications, James Bell, told TTAC, tongue firmly ensconced in cheek.
More seriously, Bell says, “It offers a real alternative in the hybrid segment.” Indeed, though the Niro lacks even the SUV flavor of the admittedly not-an-FJ RAV4 Hybrid, consumers perceive the Niro differently.
It’s definitely not a Prius.
As for the Niro’s ability to achieve even greater success in the near future, Kia is clearly beginning to see the potential.
“Demand is outpacing production at the moment,” Bell tells TTAC. Only months into its run, the Kia Niro is an overachiever in the hybrid market as the fourth-best-selling hybrid in America with nearly 10-percent hybrid market share in April 2017.
Note to Kia’s rivals: add wheelarch cladding to your hybrids. Tomorrow. Better yet, today.