Kia aims to improve the fuel efficiency of its model range by 20% over the next five years.
It intends to slash the carbon dioxide emissions of its fleet from an average of 163 grams per kilometre today - a figure which puts it on a par with Volkswagen - to 140 g/km in 2009 and 130 g/km in 2012.
Kia already has five cars which emit less than 130 g/km of carbon dioxide, but this is partly neutralised by the relatively high-polluting V6 Magentis, Sedona and Sportage models.
The Koreans admit it will take a combination of measures to reach what they call 'a challenging target'. 'Current technologies cannot help us,' said one senior engineer.
They will now focus on improving the efficiency of every part of the car, from engines and gearboxes to air-conditioning units. Frictional losses through the tyres will be reduced and cars will be more aerodynamic.
There will be more diesels, and also direct-injection petrol engines with clever valve mechanisms to help them use fuel more efficiently. Petrol-electric hybrids will also play a part: Kia is working on two systems, one for a saloon similar to that on the Toyota Prius, and the other for a large 4x4 which drives two wheels conventionally and two through electricity.
It is also evaluating hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars which produce zero emissions, but does not see them as a significant factor within the next five years. 'They will remain more expensive than diesels, though we think we can significantly reduce the gap,' the company says.
Continuously variable automatic gearboxes, double-clutch semi-autos like VW's DSG system and paddle-shift manuals can all contribute towards saving fuel, says Kia. So can stop-go systems which cut the engine when stationary, and power steering that works electrically rather than being driven off the engine.
Currently, only 20% of the energy produced by engines ever gets as far as the wheels: the rest is lost en route. Kia believes huge fuel savings can be made just by improving this ratio.
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