Kia previews a diesel-electric hybrid in Paris

Courtesy of Kia Motors

Amid the dazzling Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Porsches at the Paris Auto Show, an ordinary-looking Kia sedan is sporting a new technology that would feature low fuel costs along with strong acceleration for small and midsize cars.

The South Korean automaker is showing an Optima sedan fitted out with a turbocharged diesel-electric hybrid power plant not now available in production models. Kia calls this Optima a concept car, the T-Hybrid (for turbo-hybrid). But the company says the powertrain "remains under consideration for new Kia models in the future."

Diesels use less fuel than similar-size gasoline engines and accelerate more easily at low speeds, so they work well for city and suburban driving. However, at very slow speeds, the Kia's electric motor would take over from the 1.7-liter turbodiesel.

Companies in the past have been deterred from using this combination because of the higher cost of manufacturing a diesel engine. But Volkswagen (VLKAY) and its Audi unit recently have been testing similar power systems, and Volkswagen may be considering a diesel-electric hybrid SUV for the U.S.

While a vehicle with a powertrain similar to the Kia system would work well in city driving, diesels also are especially thrifty in highway driving. Kia isn't giving any MPG figures for the system. But estimates quoted by Automobile Magazine would put the combined-city highway mileage nearly as high as the 50 mpg of Toyota's (TM) gas-electric Prius hybrid. But the turbodiesel should have much better acceleration.

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