Exactly two weeks from now at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, Kia will unveil a new concept car with an outdoorsy theme.

It will feature an electric all-wheel drive system, but that's about the only specific detail the Korean carmaker is willing to disclose right now.

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Kia describes the concept as a "rugged runabout" designed to ferry drivers on outdoors trips for activities like skiing, camping, or hiking.

The part of the front end visible in Kia's teaser image bears some resemblance to the current Soul, so it's possible the concept could be a derivative of that model.

2014 Kia Soul - First Drive, August 2013

2014 Kia Soul - First Drive, August 2013

Kia's emphasis on off-road capability and outdoor recreation indicate the company is contemplating a small vehicle that's closer to a crossover than the tall-hatchback Soul.

That car, despite what some construe as SUV or crossover looks, is not available with all-wheel drive.

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An AWD compact vehicle would give Kia a model to more directly compete against an impending swarm of smaller crossovers that includes the 2016 Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, and Mazda CX-3, among others.

The Kia press release mentions an "e-AWD" electric all-wheel drive system--a term often used to describe adding an electric motor to the otherwise unpowered axle of an internal-combustion car.

2014 Kia Soul - First Drive, August 2013

2014 Kia Soul - First Drive, August 2013

That would seem to point to what's called a "through-the-road" hybrid powertrain, likely with a gasoline engine powering the front wheels and an electric motor powering the rear wheels.

Could the concept be pointing toward an all-wheel-drive Kia Soul, with a higher ride height and off-road inspired styling cues?

Such a car might transform the tall-wagon Soul into a crossover just as the Subaru Impreza morphed into the very successful Subaru XV Crosstrek with the addition of a taller ride height, some styling tweaks, and a new model name.

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A main challenge for Kia, however, might be cost.

Adding an electric motor to drive the rear wheels also requires a high-voltage battery pack to power it, meaning a Soul with e-AWD would essentially be a Soul Hybrid with an additional electric motor as well.

That doesn't sound cheap. But Hyundai already sells an Elantra Hybrid in Korea, so much of the engineering work may already have been done.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Regardless of what the Kia concept in Chicago turns out to be, the company and its parent Hyundai are planning a green-car product blitz, intending to grab the number-two slot in green-car sales by 2020.

In the short term, that will include an updated version of the Optima Hybrid that will likely get the same revised powertrain as the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, as well as that model's plug-in hybrid option.

Further down the line, Kia will likely add additional hybrids and at least one more electric car to its lineup.


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