Kia gets more serious about electrification with the Niro EV concept
Like other automakers around the globe, Kia is getting serious about electrification. In the coming years, the Korean automaker will build on its current collection to offer more than a dozen different electrified vehicles. A first look at what that electrified future might look like, the Niro EV concept is a fully electric crossover with a few other tricks up its sleeve.
"By 2025, we will offer a total of 16 advanced powertrain vehicles, with five new hybrids and plug-in hybrids, five new battery EVs, and an all-new mass market FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle)," says Dr. Woong-chul Yang, vice chairman and head of Kia R&D Center.
The Niro EV shows what one of those battery-electric vehicles might look like if Kia drops the 1.6-liter four-cylinder to take the compact Niro fully electric. The Niro EV is powered by a 201-hp electric motor that gives it more muscle than the production Niro hybrid or plug-in hybrid. A 64-kWh lithium-polymer battery provides power for up to 238 miles (383 km) of zero emissions driving.
To minimize the danger of a virtually silent electric powertrain, the Niro EV's active pedestrian warning system uses front-view cameras and object recognition technology to identify pedestrians and cyclists crossing in front of the car. It then directs an audible alert their way, ensuring that they are safely aware of the car's presence. An interactive lighting system helps the car in creating awareness and communicating with other road users.
As far as styling ... we usually celebrate the moment that a car slips out of the dark, shadowy teaser photos and into the bright light, but in the case of the Niro EV, it actually looked better in the dark. The boomerang headlights looked sinister as the pure-white eyes of a stealthy black car, and the teasers concealed the hood bulges that look entirely awkward under this particular paint. The digitized tiger nose grille looks a little too slim to effectively communicate with anyone more than a few feet away, and the rest of the front just ends up way too busy for what should be a clean, digital-age design.
Out back, the slim taillights and illuminated "Niro EV" badge better match up with our teaser-built expectations, but the overall rear-end design still feels busier than it needs to be. That full-width crease connecting the vents at the corners feels entirely unnecessary and looks like a weird set of lips positioned disapprovingly at the vehicle directly behind.
Maybe Kia's designers spent the extra effort on the exterior because they had some time left over after effortlessly knocking out the clean, simple interior, where broad silver and gray surfaces keep the eyes focused on the digital displays. Outside of the hovering hard shifter dial, this concept cockpit is all about touch and gesture, the inside of the steering wheel serving as a touch controller for the audio and climate control systems.
Like the Byton Concept we looked at yesterday, the Niro EV features a combination of facial recognition and voice command. Developed in conjunction with Amazon Web Services, Kia's system allows the driver to "log in" to the vehicle with his or her voice and face; then it automatically adjusts settings according to that person's preferences. Should the system not recognize the driver, as in the case of an attempted theft, it instead shuts down key vehicle functions.
Kia is also showing a second cockpit with 5G-supported infotainment connectivity and front and rear sound separation. The latter system allows front and rear passengers to listen to different audio without bothering each other. Eight speakers in each headrest play the desired audio and cancel out external noise, creating a localized sound field.
Kia doesn't mention any Niro EV autonomous technology, but autonomy is a key component of its greater CES presence. It plans to begin large-scale autonomous fleet testing on public roads in 2019, followed by a Level 4 autonomous vehicle smart city pilot program in 2021. CES visitors can experience Kia's emerging autonomous technologies via a VR simulator.