Once again, Kia has gone all out for the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Last year, the Korean automaker collaborated on some of the most memorable concepts of the show, built around an All American road trip theme. This year, it shifts focus to autonomous driving and its potential role in sports and lifestyle activities with a quartet of concepts that climbs ski slopes, supports triathletes, records rock and roll and ferries business people about in class, all without anyone in the driver's seat.
Sorento Ski Gondola
Call it a bias for production cars set on snow tracks, but we're picking out the Sorento Ski Gondola as Kia's most interesting SEMA car this year and probably one of the standouts of the entire show. Much like the Nissan Rogue Warrior concept from earlier this year, the Sorento Ski Gondola is designed to shuttle skiers up and down the slopes, chewing right through everything from powder to ice. The Ski Gondola takes the concept of tracked ski shuttle one step further by driving autonomously.
Lux Motorwerks did the conversion work on this one, adding a set of Dominator rubber tracks with highly visible orange powder coating, a custom roof rack for skis and poles, LED light bars for getting that last run in, and a B pillar-free conversion with suicide rear doors for easy entry and exit. The cabin provides a comfy space for occupants with a tablet computer and waterproof Line-X-treated floors to handle wet boots and clothes. The concept wears PPG Silver Metallic and orange paint and includes a black and orange interior to match.
We would have loved a little more explanation about how today's autonomous tech could be adopted to the unique challenges of climbing ski slopes and recognizing obstacles like fast-moving downhill skiers and snow-dusted rocks, but the self-driving bit appears to just be a marketing point without any hardware or vision behind it. That's okay, though; SEMA is all about building out wild visions that will likely never actually see time on any street, trail or ski slope.
The new Kia Niro also gets much sportier for SEMA with an equally extreme design aimed at warm-weather athletes – triathletes to be exact. LGE-CTS Motorsports has transformed the Niro into a sporty "crossover-utility lifestyle vehicle" complete with short pickup bed. Reminiscent of the 2012 Hyundai Veloster C3 Roll Top, albeit with the roof left intact ahead of the D pillars, the Niro Triathlon offers competition support with a custom bike rack holding a Felt IA 2 race bike. There's also a toolbox and tablet mount in the bed area.
Kia imagines the Niro Triathlon serving as a driverless support vehicle, autonomously keeping pace with the cyclist and tracking his or her speed, time and distance via the removable tablet in the bed. That tablet can also be mounted inside and used for entertainment or performance analysis on the way to and from the big event as the athlete enjoys the comfort of a Human Touch zero gravity recliner while the Niro drives itself there.
Like the Sorento gondola, the Triathlon loses its B pillar, on the passenger side, making entry and exit easier on aching muscles, with help from a rear-hinged back door and wide-swinging front door. Other modifications include a portable shower built into the front door, plenty of gear storage options, a 2-in (5-cm) suspension drop, and 265/35R-18 Dunlop Direzza sport tires hugging 18-in Method Rally wheels.
School of Rock Sedona
The world wasn't made for jocks alone, and neither was Kia's SEMA lineup. Kia offers something for musicians with the School of Rock Sedona. A smaller, autonomously driven tour bus, the heavily modified Sedona represents a partnership between Kia, School of Rock music school and LGE-CTS Motorsports.
The School of Rock van is designed to carry child musicians from gig to gig, letting them take advantage of a recording studio and lounge along the way. LGE-CTS ripped out the driver-side B pillar, steering assembly and shifter to make room for a digital mixing board and dual flat-screen monitors. A boom mic hangs from the ceiling, studio-quality acoustic panels line the interior to provide the proper audio environment, and a "recording" light atop the roof lets others know when a session is underway. Near-field speakers up front provide playback, and stacked amps in the load area let musicians flip the hatch and turn a recording session into a live performance, while bean bag chairs are provided for relaxing downtime between recordings and gigs.
In terms of styling, hand-painted School of Rock artwork distinguishes the van from other Sedonas, with help from black 20-in Vossen VFS6 wheels wrapped in Toyo Proxes 255/45R-20 tires, and white, tan, black and candy red paint. Large instruments find a home-on-the-road on the roof rack.
Soul First Class
Kia's SEMA offerings aren't all play and no work, though. The Soul First Class brings autonomous driving into the real world and gets it a serious job. The "upscale inter-city chariot" is designed as a rolling office/lounge for business people on the go and is another collaboration between Kia and Lux Motorwerks.
The Soul First Class loses the steering wheel and driver-focused dashboard area for a pair of rear-facing seats. In place of the usual rear row, a 40-in Samsung LED TV performs both entertainment and productivity tasks thanks to the connected Mac mini and accompanying sound system. Tablets deploy from the motorized center console to put control of this rolling theater at the fingertips of each passenger.
The cabin includes white and gray leather with diamond stitching and gray wood flooring. Outside, PPG Lux Blue paint, modified grilles, LED lighting, and 19-in Rotiform Monoblock CCV wheels give the funky Soul a clean, modern look.
Kia is also showing the Telluride SUV concept at SEMA, which started on Tuesday and runs through Friday.