At this week's Seoul Motor Show, Korean automaker Kia took the wraps off of its first mass-production hybrid model, the Forte LPI Hybrid. In addition to serving as the firm's initial foray into the hybrid realm, the domestic-market Forte LPI is the first vehicle anywhere to match an internal combustion engine fueled by clean-burning liquified petroleum gas (aka propane) with an electric motor powered by an advanced Lithium-ion (Li-ion) polymer battery. It does, however, share that hybrid powertrain honor with a new player from its parent company, Hyundai, which introduced its equally-distinctive Elantra LPI at the Seoul exhibition. Hyundai thus will become the first automaker to introduce Li-ion polymer battery technology to its production hybrids.

Backed by a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the 1.6-liter four-cylinder in both of these "mild-hybrid vehicles" uses efficiency-enhancing Atkinson Cycle valve timing to help make 114 horsepower and gets paired with a motor that adds another 20 ponies. In the case of the Forte LPI, that match-up yields a 41-mpg equivalent fuel economy rating while Hyundai claims the Elantra LPI's figure is closer to 50 mpg. The Elantra LPI is set to go on sale in Korea this June and the Forte LPI will hit Kia its home-country showrooms in August.

To set the LPI apart from its conventional Forte cousin and help improve its aero count, the hybrid sports a revised front fascia with bigger air intakes and a restyled grille. The rear fascia received an even more extensive rework and features unique LED taillamps. Like most hybrids, the Forte LPI also boasts its own dedicated "Super Vision" instrument cluster to help drivers max out their real-world mileage as well as an optional navigation system.

In conjunction with the introduction of the Forte LPI Hybrid, Kia also introduced its new Eco-Dynamics sub-brand. Eco-Dynamics will serve as the umbrella operation to market several of the firm's future green technologies. The new Li-ion polymer battery in both the Forte LPI and Elantra LPI was developed by LG Chem, and is expected to be the same unit that will be used in the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that's due to arrive here in America sometime in 2010.

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