By on May 8, 2017

2017 Kia Niro blue rear - Image: Kia

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.

2017 Kia Niro - Image: Kia

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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25 Comments on “The Kia Niro Is A Hit, Thanks Be Unto TTAC (And The Crossover-Hungry Universe)...”


  • avatar
    tonycd

    It’s a hit because it’s not marketed or styled as a “hybrid” marketed to greenies. It’s positioned and styled as a “crossover,” aimed at that much larger audience and priced right, and it happens to get 50 mpg. They don’t care about going off-road anyway, so what’s not for them to like?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Based on how much we like our Rondo and reviews of the Niro, we took one out for a test drive. ‘Her Indoors’ quite liked it. Acceptable sightlines. Acceptable ride height/ingress/egress.

    She regarded it, and I agree as a large 5 door hatch. In the same category as the Rondo or the Mercedes B class or the C-Max.

    For the price it is very competitive as a gasoline/petrol powered vehicle. Then cost in the initial fuel savings and it should be a ‘no brainer’.

    However still worry about the longterm costs.

    Got a standard CUV/SUV instead, due to the ‘insider’ pricing that we were able to get through a relative.

    But the Niro will be at the top of the list in 2 years, when we look at adding another vehicle to the ‘fleet’.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    ” It lacks the all-wheel-drive option and tall roof that should be requirements for labelling something a crossover…”

    I prefer stronger language here. Those two things *are* requirements to call something a crossover. Kia is breaking the rules.

    • 0 avatar
      stevelovescars

      Kia is following the rules set by Chrysler with the PT Cruiser many years ago when they called that an SUV. Many SUVs and crossovers are sold in 2wd form, as well.

      Bottom line, I have no idea what the rules are. If the DOT is happy to call it an SUV for CAFE purposes, who am I to argue? The Niro looks to be an affordable and practical 5-door wagon/hatchback/CUV that can provide good utility to a family and gets nearly 50 mpg. It should be a hit. And if gas prices rise it will be an even bigger one.

      And, regardless of what the manufacturers call it, consumers will simply buy it or not. When my 75 year old aunt bought a bright yellow first-gen Scion xB with a manual transmission the dealer was perfectly happy to take her money even though she didn’t fit the target demographic.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        “And, regardless of what the manufacturers call it, consumers will simply buy it or not.”

        Yes, that is how goods and services work. Thank you.

  • avatar
    johnhowington

    Its a hit? *yawn*

  • avatar
    benders

    I see a ton of Fusion hybrids around and have one friend who bought one. I suspect that it’s because they’ll let you buy one in any trim level for a $2.5k upcharge, a rarity for many cars with narrowly defined options packages.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    That one is the same color as the one I saw last October, while driving home from work, in the Dallas area (I posted it on the V.I.S.I.T. FB group, and I still have the pics in my phone). The car was wearing a Michigan MFR plate, so I assume it was a pre-production or early production example. I like the color; it reminds me of the color of one Hot Wheels I had when I was a kid (a ’68 T-Bird maybe?).

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Sorry, for the same money, I’ll take a CPO Prius V, made by a manufacturer who has been making hybrids for 15 years. Not some Kia-come-lately.

    • 0 avatar
      tmport

      Kia’s been selling hybrids in the United States since at least 2011, so they’re not exactly new to the scene.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      I’d rather buy a car with a really long warranty than a car some dealer calls “CPO.” I’ve known waaay too many car dealer employees to fall for that.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Yeah, CPO only means that the dealer certifies that it was pre-owned, IOW a Used car.

        • 0 avatar
          tonycd

          I thought having a warranty is exactly what CPO means.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            If there is still an unexpired factory warranty left, that will be honored first at the dealership. Sometimes they’ll try to weasel out of it.

            Often, what dealers do, is to buy an extended warranty and fold the cost of that extended warranty into the retail-sales price of that vehicle.

            There was a time, a long time ago, when CPO meant that service techs at the dealership would go over the vehicle with a factory-supplied checklist, and replace all parts worn beyond fair wear and tear, even the timing belt.

            This was predominently with Mercedes and BMW. Then Lexus also jumped on board at one time.

            It also used to be that off-Lease vehicles would have all their dings and nicks repaired/repainted.

            After all, that’s what the Lessee was charged for, to bring it up to saleable standard.

            As of Oct 2012 when I left the business, any and all of the above was no longer done, except in case of heavy damage, like collisions.

            The bottom line with CPO vehicle is “Caveat Emptor”, let the buyer beware. Ask to see their CPO checklist.

            If they use one, it is filed in the vehicle dossier or file. If not, they’ll spout misdirection and obfuscation, like when asking for the Carfax that they don’t have.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Good luck with that.

      While overall, the Prius has been reliable, know several owners who have gone thru a battery pack (or 2).

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      A lightly used Prius V is the way to go for a lot of folks if they can tolerate the somewhat sedate acceleration. For once a used Toyota is priced reasonably because of the current state of gas prices. A nicely styled (IMO) wagon with a raised roof and a rock solid reputation for reliability and low TCO. What’s not to like? We’re likely going straight to a minivan, but if we weren’t, I’d absolutely snag a Prius V.

  • avatar
    shaker

    It’s good to see these doing so well – despite “low” gas prices, I’d bet that people appreciate not having to wait in line to grasp that slimy pump handle as often.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Good for them. Maybe they will become common enough that the prices will remain low and purchases will go even higher. IMO ( no stats or anything) gas will increase over the next twelve months to about 3.25 per gallon. When this happens those are bought these and others like it will be ready…I for one can at the moment deal with 3.25 per gallon. When it hits 6 then I will have some major issues.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The Niro is on my list. The Ioniq definitely is not – it’s way too small inside.

    I predict the Niro will always outsell the Ioniq.

  • avatar
    quaquaqua

    I’ll admit I’m a huuuuge Kia fan. (I got my parents to buy a Sorento instead of a Cherokee, but that wasn’t very hard – they just had to drive them back to back.) But it is waaay too soon to call this thing a hit.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      We’ve had a great ownership experience with my grand daughter’s 2011 Elantra (from the same school of South Korean automotive thought as KIA).

      Never had to use the Warranty because it never broke down, and is currently in use by someone else still attending the University, Still going strong.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Granted, a six year old car should still be going strong. Not exactly a huge ringing endorsement.

        I like the Niro for what it appears to be…a decently sized wagon (let’s be honest here) with more than acceptable fuel economy. Of course, if Kia called it a wagon, it would never sell!

  • avatar
    bd2

    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%.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    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?

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