Kia exec: Plug-in hybrids misunderstood, Telluride hybrid a possibility

Kia has already ushered in several new EVs over the past model year. Looking ahead to the next year, it will solidify some new decisions about its range of hybrids and plug-in hybrids for the brand, in addition to additional EVs on the way.

Russell Wager, Kia America’s vice president of marketing, told Green Car Reports at the Chicago auto show that an electrified Telluride SUV isn’t off the table, and that consumers don’t understand plug-in hybrids.

From the updated 2025 Kia Carnival minivan to EV9 production in America, Wager said Kia’s making business changes as quickly as it can with the evolving market.

2024 Kia Telluride

Electrifying the Kia Telluride

Kia has previously said that the Telluride, which rides on a platform capable of supporting a hybrid, won’t be electrified, as the Kia EV9 serves that market. But Wager added some context to that.

“The market has changed in the last 12 months,” the executive noted, with everyone still rocketing towards EV adoption, with adoption rates jumping at Kia from 1% to 3% then 8% and now at 9%. “We’re still committed” Wager said, noting the automaker’s currently in the process of retooling its plant in Georgia where the K5 was built so it can build U.S.-made EV9s that will qualify for the EV tax credit.

Should the market dictate that hybrids need to be a larger part of Kia’s strategy in the three-row segment with all-wheel drive, an electrified Telluride isn’t off the table anymore. As to whether it would be a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, Wager noted it would be one or the other, but not both.

The smaller Sportage and Sorento are offered with a choice between hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, but Wager argued that one of the keys to the Telluride’s success has been the narrow build configurations and it would complicate the lineup.

2023 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid

2023 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid

Plug-in hybrid misconceptions in the way

Wager said the current problem with plug-in hybrids is the need to explain them to consumers. PHEVs are harder to market, because they’re misunderstood, and because of the time it takes to inform the consumer about why a hybrid would need to be plugged in. 

“It’s an education thing we have to do,” Wager said.

Once people understand what a plug-in hybrid is and can do, perhaps not requiring them to use a drop of gasoline during the work week, it becomes a no-brainier, he insisted. “It’s like, my god, it’s the best thing,” Wager said.

The executive believes the market will get to the point where a PHEV is a “no-brainer,” which is why the automaker continues to offer the powertrain in its Sorento, Sportage, and Niro.

2025 Kia Carnival

2025 Kia Carnival

No plug-in hybrid Carnival

Despite the 2025 Carnival MPV getting an available hybrid powertrain, a plug-in was never seriously considered. While putting a hybrid in the model will increase efficiency and make it more competitive against the hybrid Toyota Sienna and plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica, Kia already hasn’t been able to build them quickly enough at the South Korean plant where it’s made.

The Carnival won’t be getting all-wheel drive either as Kia feels the EV9, Telluride, and Sorento fill the needs of three-row buyers demanding all-wheel drive. 

KIa Concept EV3, Kia EV Day, October, 2023

KIa Concept EV3, Kia EV Day, October, 2023

KIa Concept EV4, Kia EV Day, October, 2023

KIa Concept EV4, Kia EV Day, October, 2023

The future lineup

Kia plans to have seven electrified vehicles by 2027. Three are on sale today with the Niro, EV6, and EV9. Wager noted Kia showed the EV3 and EV4 concepts in January at CES and that “when we show a concept vehicle, generally speaking, we bring it.” The final two remain a mystery for now.