A right-hand-drive long wheelbase Sportage hybrid could happen, but it will require careful planning and a rock-solid business case
The fifth-generation Kia Sportage midsize SUV is sold across the globe in a raft of configurations – including as a right-hand-drive hybrid – but the business case for Australia is more complex than just dropping an existing powertrain into the current car.
With the runaway success of Toyota’s self-charging RAV4 midsize SUV, there is space in the market for Kia to introduce a direct hybrid competitor in Australia alongside its petrol, diesel and turbo variants of the Sportage.
But senior Kia Australia executives say that the business case for the Sportage hybrid has not yet been made out – with the South Korean production line needing expensive new tooling to be able to produce the hybrid powertrain in Australian long-wheelbase configuration.
Chasing Cars understands that neither Kia Australia nor Kia’s home office has agreed to put up the necessary funds to support hybrid production – and there is a concern that this procedure will be so costly that it would make the price of an eventuating 2022 Sportage hybrid too high to compete with the RAV4.
With the larger three-row Kia Sorento having gained a plug-in hybrid powertrain in Australia in late 2021 – and a new ‘self-charging’ Sorento hybrid en route to our shores – it’s clear that Kia sees the value in hybridising its SUV lineup.
The difference is that the Sorento production line was tooled from the beginning to support hybrid production to suit the Australian specification of the vehicle.
Speaking to Chasing Cars this month, Kia Australia’s general manager of product planning, Roland Rivero said the long wheelbase Sportage hybrid “wasn’t developed for RHD, we’re making a very specific request for a unique development for Australia and that costs money, it costs resources.”
Currently the Kia Sportage is produced for the UK in Slovakia – though it measures 135mm shorter than the Australian-market car – and is available with a petrol-electric powertrain producing 169kW of power.
North America also gets a Sportage hybrid which rides on the same 2755mm wheelbase as Aussie cars though is assembled domestically in Georgia. The same hybrid powertrain as the UK car is available, but has only been developed for LHD markets.
Australian Sportages come out of the Gwangju factory in South Korea, and if we want a series-parallel hybrid Sportage then it’s up to Kia Australia to build a business case.
To get a RHD Sportage hybrid to production for Australia involves developing the vehicle in Korea, adding tooling to the Gwangju plant and then complying it for the Australian market.
Mr Rivero said that the “[Sportage hybrid business case] requires a lot of number-crunching in terms of adding that complexity to the plant, the development involved… that all has to be paid for and amortised and those maths have to work out.
“Is [Sportage hybrid] going to be a marketable vehicle that we can get the price point to where we want it to be compared to say, a RAV4 hybrid? Until those numbers work out, we can’t give you anything firm. ” he said.
So until the business case is rock-solid, the Sportage hybrid will remain off-limits to Australians.
Hyundai and Kia are owned in majority by Hyundai Motor Group and share access to the extensive Namyang testing facility.
The Hyundai Tucson midsize SUV shares a platform and engines with the Kia Sportage, including the option of a self-charging hybrid in other markets.
However, the Tucson and Sportage are not built for Australia in the same factory, the Hyundai is manufactured in the Ulson plant, and the Sportage at Kia’s Gwangju facility.
When asked whether Hyundai and Kia could share development costs for RHD hybrid Tucson and Sportage models, Kia Australia managing director Damien Meredith said that the investment in the tooling and development would come from a brand level, rather than company-wide R&D costs.
That means the sibling companies won’t join forces to develop a single variant for the Australian market when both cars are made in different factories.
All prices listed are before on-road costs.
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