With gasoline prices steadily heading into the stratosphere, fuel economy is forefront in the minds of the majority of car buyers, prompting automakers to perform all kinds of stunts to highlight the efficiency of their vehicles. The latest such attempt comes from Korean company Kia, which is sending a 2011 Optima Hybrid on a road trip across the contiguous U.S. Kia hopes the journey will gain it an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records by setting a new record for the lowest fuel consumption in a gasoline hybrid car while driving through all 48 adjoining U.S. states.

The 8,000 mile fuel economy challenge saw Wayne Gerdes and Chris Bernius depart from Kia Motors' manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia, on August 26 behind the wheel of a factory-standard Kia Optima Hybrid four-door sedan. Over the planned 16-day journey they will travel through the 48 adjoining states of the U.S. in a clockwise direction, before finishing in South Carolina on September 10.

"Driving through all 48 adjoining U.S. states is the ultimate "real-world" challenge, but the Kia Optima Hybrid gives the drivers the very best chance of setting a Guinness World Record, as it has been specifically designed to achieve maximum fuel economy in all driving conditions, not just in the city," said Senior Executive Vice President & COO of Kia Motors Corporation, Thomas Oh.

Kia says the 2.4-liter Optima Hybrid, which went on sale in East- and West-coast regions of the U.S. in June, boasts a 40.7 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the standard Optima EX model. Powered by a parallel gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, the vehicle can accelerate from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 9.2 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 195 km/h (121 mph).

The US$26,500 vehicle will be available nationally across the U.S. by the end of the year, while a European version, which mates the electric motor to a smaller, 2.0-liter engine, is expected to be available next year.

Kia's fuel economy record attempt can be followed via the company's Facebook page.

UPDATE

In response to our queries, Kia has gotten in touch with us and confirmed that the record it is attempting to set is indeed a new record category as Guinness has split the records for hybrid diesel and hybrid petrol for the first time. The target it is looking to beat is 52.27 US mpg. Although this is significantly above the official EPA highway figure of 40 US mpg for the Optima Hybrid, Kia is confident of exceeding the target by a significant margin.