The Kia Niro Is A Hit, Thanks Be Unto TTAC (And The Crossover-Hungry Universe)

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

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.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • Bd2 Bd2 on May 09, 2017

    Eh, hardly surprising. The Niro had already been selling well in Korea and the EU and outselling its Hyundai counterpart. The Niro/Ioniq (which are still not available everywhere) sold a combined 4,236 last month and the Prius Liftback, C and V sold a combined 7,892. Not too shabby. H/K's share of the hybrid market is now up to around 18% (same as Ford's) and Toyota's share has dropped down to 54.7%.

  • Compaq Deskpro Compaq Deskpro on May 09, 2017

    This is silly, that appears to have similar ground clearance to my Challenger, which I would categorize as slightly less than average. Is my Challenger in the same product category as a 2 door Range Rover Evoque?

    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on May 09, 2017

      Think of the Niro as a competitor to the Prius v. The "CUV" moniker has created a controversy where there should be none.

  • Kosmo Love it. Can I get one with something other than Subaru's flat four?
  • M B When the NorthStar happened, it was a part of GM's "rebuilding" of the Cadillac brand. Money to finance it was shuffled from Oldsmobile, which resulted in Olds having to only facelift its products, which BEGAN its slide down the mountain. Olds stagnated in product and appearances.First time I looked at the GM Parts illustration of a NorthStar V-8, I was impressed AND immediately saw the many things that were expensive, costly to produce, and could have been done less expensively. I saw it as an expensive disaster getting ready to happen. Way too much over-kill for the typical Cadillac owner of the time.Even so, there were a few areas where cost-cutting seemed to exist. The production gasket/seal between the main bearing plate and the block was not substantial enough to prevent seeps. At the time, about $1500.00 to fix.In many ways, the NS engine was designed to make far more power than it did. I ran across an article on a man who was building kits to put the NS in Chevy S-10 pickups. With his home-built 4bbl intake and a 600cfm Holley 4bbl, suddenly . . . 400 horsepower resulted. Seems the low hood line resulted in manifolding compromises which decreased the production power levels.GM was seeking to out-do its foreign competitors with the NS design and execution. In many ways they did, just that FEW people noticed.
  • Redapple2 Do Hybrids and be done with it.
  • Redapple2 Panamera = road porn.
  • Akear What an absurd strategy. They are basically giving up after all these years. When a company drinks the EV hemlock failure is just around the corner.
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