2010 Chicago: Everybody Loves Kia’s Ray

Kia’s been tinkering with hybrid vehicles for some time now, but chances are, unless you live in the few markets where the Forte LPI Hybrid and its siblings are sold, you may have missed that bulletin. The Ray concept, unveiled this afternoon at the 2010 Chicago auto show, aims to showcase the South Korean automaker’s “EcoDynamics” sub-brand and its latest green technologies.

Although its name stems largely from the roof-mounted solar panels (which power lighting, HVAC systems, and other accessories), the Ray is powered by a plug-in parallel hybrid driveline. An aluminum-block 1.4-liter I-4 with direct fuel injection is mated with a 78-kW electric motor through a CVT. The car can be powered by the gasoline engine, electric motor, or a variable mixture of the two.

The Ray’s bodywork is equally as advanced and eco-friendly. Described as an “airframe on wheels,” the concept’s structure is chock full of lightweight materials, and the overall shape is designed to reduce aerodynamic drag. Fog lamps conceal air inlets when the gas engine is off, while exterior mirrors are replaced with flush-mounted rear-view cameras. Special laminate films and “cool glazing” on the windows helps reduce the need to run the A/C, while most materials inside the cabin — including the wool flooring — are recycled.

The result? The Ray can achieve 77.6 mpg when operating as a normal normal hybrid, but when operating as a plug-in hybrid — which runs in EV mode for up to 50 miles before firing up the engine — Kia says it could return fuel economy averages in the 202 mpg range.

Kia’s clearly serious about bringing a hybrid to market, and this could be an interesting proposition. It carries the promise of fuel economy figures just shy of Chevrolet’s Volt, but its hybrid architecture could be less expensive to place into production. Kia insists the Ray is merely a concept at this point, but if that’s true, then the Lemonheads had it right: It is a shame about Ray…