Imagine concept shows how Kia could broaden its electrification offerings
The Kia e-Niro has set the standard for the Korean manufacturer in terms of electric vehicles, but the company is keen to build on the success and move from hybrid crossovers to pure electric four-doors. Introduced to positive acclaim, the e-Niro was seen by many to be a serious attempt at an affordable alternative energy vehicle that was still fun to drive and eliminated any sort of range anxiety.
At the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show were the fruits of the design teams’ labor when given a clean sheet of paper and told to design the EV of the future. Imagine is Kia’s first pure electric four-door passenger car, featuring a “tiger mask” illuminated front end that could be adopted by the manufacturer’s forthcoming models. The company described the car as “a visual embodiment of Kia’s desire to move forward in the existing world of electrification,” and it is quite a departure from what has gone before.
“Today’s drivers understandably have questions about electric cars,” commented Gregory Guillaume, VP of design at Kia Motors Europe. “They’re concerned about range, the recharging network, and whether electric cars will still be dynamic and engaging to drive. So, when we first started thinking about this concept and imagining what its role would be, we knew that the best way to answer those questions was by approaching electrification purely from an emotional point of view.”
This approach was adopted for both the interior and the exterior of the car, because both elements are often as important as each other.
“We wanted take advantage of the liberties of the platform, such as the flat floor, the open environment, and clean interior,” explained Ralph Kluge, General Manager, Interior Design at Kia. “Everything from the floor to the belt line to the armrest is one shell, and it makes you feel protected. We’ve integrated a larger entertainment layer with an extreme trim level and on top of the belt line there is a very airy feel and a glass roof to give more light throughout the whole car.”
Imagine features by a low-mounted, induction-charged battery pack that powers a compact drivetrain. The specifics on the power available was not disclosed in Switzerland, but assurances were made that Kia would be looking to make power and range priorities on any production models that feature electrification. In fact, the company also announced that the forthcoming Soul model would be sold solely as an EV in Europe and that, in 10 years, Kia has moved from selling no alternative-powered models to one in eight cars now being an EV or HEV. The ratio, says Kia, is more than almost any other brand—so it’s essential to retain that sort of ratio in the electric future.
Guillaume described the Imagine as a “category buster and a disruptor” to the automotive market and admitted that the design team wanted to have a bit of fun with the car as well as produce a serious contender for the EV passenger car market. For example, there are 21 individual ultra-high-resolution screens curved across the width of the car’s cabin on top of the dashboard in a revolutionary layout.
“The screens are a humorous and irreverent riposte to the on-going competition between some automotive manufacturers to see who can produce the car with the biggest screen,” laughed Kluge. “As a single screen or from the viewpoint of a passenger, it looks like the glass is shattered, but as a driver, the menus are undisturbed, so therefore forms a very large screen in a very unconventional way!”
Artificial intelligence plays a role in Imagine’s unconventional screen setup—something that will become more widespread in future Kia models, said Kluge.
“The idea with the screens is that they would be close enough to touch, but we also have the capability of voice recognition, which is something people are getting more used to on digital assistants, for example,” he explained. “But we also have a hard key or button because it can be much better for functions such as volume. Even though Imagine is a show car, we are still presenting our vision of how we think we can make interiors much more inviting for drivers and passengers.”