Kia Trail'ster Concept In Chicago: New 'DE' Dedicated Hybrid SUV? (UPDATED)

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Kia Trail'ster Concept teaser image, 2015 Chicago Auto Show

Kia Trail'ster Concept teaser image, 2015 Chicago Auto Show

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Kia has now issued another teaser photo of the "rugged runabout" crossover utility vehicle concept it will unveil next week at the Chicago Auto Show, and it now has a name: the Kia Trail'ster Concept.

The photo shows the rear of the vehicle on a dirt road, with an upswept black bumper shield and the same extroverted five-spoke wheel design as in the first teaser, which showed the front of the car in a snowstorm.

The concept, Kia says, has a "bold design, fully retractable canvas roof and smartly integrated rear electric all-wheel drive system."

DON'T MISS: Kia Soul To Get Hybrid AWD? 'Rugged Runabout' For Chicago Show Adds Electric AWD

It's intended for the "city-dweller-turned- outdoor-adventurer," apparently.

The vehicle clearly won't be an all-wheel-drive Soul, as we had originally thought--as desirable as such a vehicle might be.

Instead, we remembered a reference to an article about six weeks ago in the German magazine AutoBild.

It said that Kia planned to introduce a new crossover utility vehicle, codenamed "DE," with a twist: It would only be offered with a hybrid-electric powertrain.

Kia 2015 Chicago Auto Show teaser image

Kia 2015 Chicago Auto Show teaser image

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There would be no gasoline (or diesel) version at all.

If so, this vehicle--14.3 feet long, just fractionally shorter than today's Sportage--would likely be the first Kia to be built on a new, dedicated-hybrid platform from Kia's parent company Hyundai.

It would either replace the current Sportage compact crossover utility (introduced as a 2011 model) or add an additional SUV with far better fuel economy to a lineup that now includes the Sportage and the Sorento mid-size SUV.

Last month at the Detroit Auto Show, Ki-Sang Lee, a senior vice president who's head of the Hyundai-Kia R&D Center for "eco-friendly vehicles," discussed the new hybrid platform.

ALSO SEE: Hyundai Plans Hybrids, Electric Cars & More: 5 Questions With Green R&D Head Ki-Sang Lee

Dedicated hybrids built on the new underpinnings will use the third generation of the corporate hybrid system, and plug-in hybrids will follow.

The second generation just launched in the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid, which will go on sale this year.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

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A redesigned Kia Optima Hybrid and a new Optima Plug-in Hybrid will be introduced later this year as well.

But the new dedicated-hybrid vehicles will use the company's dual-clutch transmission (now offered in the U.S. only in the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco model), rather than the adapted six-speed automatic transmission of previous generations.

Other reports indicate that it will be paired with the latest 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine--roughly a hybridized version of the powertrain used in today's 2015 Hyundai Sonata Eco.

But while Hyundai may target the upcoming new 2016 Toyota Prius directly with a five-door hatchback passenger car, Kia may be planning to take the SUV route to launch its dedicated hybrids instead.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum

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The crossover concept for Chicago, Kia says, is intended to ferry drivers on outdoors trips for activities like hiking, camping, or skiing.

In the teaser photo, the wheel-arch lips, bumper shield, and chin spoiler appear to be black plastic, contrasting to the vehicle's white body.

About the only concrete detail Kia provided was that the concept would feature an "e-AWD" electric all-wheel drive system, often used on light-duty SUVs.

That refers to the addition of an electric motor powering the second axle of a car that uses its engine to drive one axle (usually the front). Examples include the Lexus RX hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

2015 Kia Soul EV launch at 2014 Chicago Auto Show

2015 Kia Soul EV launch at 2014 Chicago Auto Show

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We'll learn more about the "rugged" Kia crossover concept in just a matter of days--and it's worth remembering that at last year's Chicago show, the Kia Soul EV was unveiled.

A Kia hybrid crossover based on this year's concept might launch during early or mid 2016, as a 2017 model.

For all the news on new cars and concepts from the Windy City, visit our Chicago Auto Show news page.

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