You Want It, Kia Wants It, But Here's Why Niro Likely Won't Offer All-wheel Drive Anytime Soon
Kia’s foray into the hybrid segment might be ill-timed, considering the current contraction of sales for its main rival, the Toyota Prius, but the Korean automaker is betting big on the Niro’s traditionally boxy shape bringing in would-be Prius buyers offended by origami-esque sheetmetal.
Still, with that two-box silhouette comes some preconceived notions — like all-wheel drive.
While you want it, and Kia Motors of America would surely love to give it to you, there are a host of reasons why Kia’s newest hybrid-only crossover doesn’t offer all-wheel drive and likely won’t anytime soon.
After speaking with Kia Motors America’s director of communications, James Bell, it appears the company would love to offer optional all-wheel drive on the Niro and is actively campaigning for its addition, but two major technical issues stand in the way.
First, one must consider the platform. The Niro is based on the same bones that underpin the new Hyundai Ioniq, a car that will be launched later this month. Underneath the rear seat sits the same battery pack as the Ioniq, which stretches more-or-less the width of the vehicle. This poses an issue in engineering.
“You’d have to split that battery pack in half,” explained Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning for Kia Motors America, when asked about the addition of mechanical all-wheel drive. Splitting that pack would be no easy feat, and would likely reduce the Niro’s battery capacity while also adding the extra weight of a mechanical all-wheel-drive system.
But what about an e-AWD system where the rear wheels are independently driven by their own electric motor? Not so fast.
“The rear of the Niro is already quite tight and we didn’t package protect the rear for future all-wheel drive,” Hedrick stated, effectively killing the possibility of a single-motor solution.
Still, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Hyundai-Kia’s largest supplier, Mobis, offered a glimpse at an in-wheel electric motor e-AWD system that would solve the Niro’s packaging issues — but at a cost.
“[In-wheel e-AWD] is unlikely to happen if the solution adds $4,000 to the price of the vehicle,” Hedrick said.
If Kia Motors America gets its way, all-wheel drive could show up in a second-generation Niro, with some other vehicles also benefiting from the new technology. Kia is currently developing an e-AWD system in-house, but will need to find more applications than just the Niro to bring it to production.
[Image: Kia Motors America]
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