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May 23, 2019

Imagine by Kia: a new all-electric concept car revealed

Kia Motors has revealed its new all-electric concept car, ‘Imagine by Kia’, at the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show.

“Automotive design is about capturing the heart and making it beat that bit faster for that bitlonger. We believe that there’s absolutely no reason why that should change simply becausethe car is electric,” says Gregory Guillaume, Vice President of Design for Kia Motors Europe.“That’s why our all-electric concept is designed to not only get your pulse racing, but to alsosignpost our holistic and emotional approach to electrification.”

“Today’s drivers understandably have many questions about electric cars. They’reconcerned about range, the recharging network, and whether electric cars will still bedynamic and engaging to drive. So, when we first started thinking about this concept andimagining what its role would be, we knew that the best way to answer those questions andaddress those concerns was by approaching electrification purely from an emotional point ofview.”

This human-centric attitude is perfectly aligned with Kia’s attitude on automotive design, asGuillaume explains. “When they talk about their electric cars, many carmakers promote thesame rational and empirical data-driven messages as they do with their internal combustionengined cars, such as range, economy and performance criteria.”

“Kia prides itself on its power to surprise, which is why we wanted to move away from therational and focus on the emotional, and embrace a warmer and more human approach toelectrification. After all, electricity is found within every atom, it’s the energy that flows withinus and around us on our planet. Harnessing its potential has propelled us forward from oneinnovation to the next,” says Guillaume.

A visual embodiment of Kia’s desire to move forward in the exciting world of electrification,Imagine by Kia is the company’s first pure electric four-door passenger car. Unlike theaward-winning e-Niro electric crossover, which is based on the existing architecture of thehybrid-powered Niro, Imagine by Kia is underpinned by a low-mounted, induction-chargedbattery pack that powers a compact drivetrain.

Coherently drawing together elements of a muscular sports utility vehicle, a sleek andathletic family saloon, and a versatile and spacious crossover, Imagine by Kia is intentionallydesigned to not sit within the industry’s predefined vehicle categories.

“It’s a large C-segment car – the vehicle size that’s incredibly popular in Europe – but theonly things it holds on to are Kia’s brand values,” explains Guillaume. “It hints at somethingfamiliar, but is something entirely new. I think of it as a category-buster, and a disruptor – it’sfamiliar and understood but at the same time progressive and new.”

Intelligently reinterpreting Kia’s iconic ‘tiger nose’ grille, Imagine by Kia features a bold newilluminated ‘tiger mask’ that encircles the main LED headlamp units. Separated by horizontal‘eyelids’, the dipped and main beam units are housed with a single block of clear acrylicglass, creating the effect of piercing eyes floating free of visible support. This striking ‘tigermask’ creates a distinctive and recognisable lighting motif that instantly marks this out as aKia for the 21st Century.

“The inspiration for the ‘tiger mask’ was to create the look and feel of the headlamps beingsuspended within a transparent block of glass,” explains Guillaume. “This identifiable lightingsignature could potentially be deployed as a unifying design element across Kia’s futureelectric vehicle range.”

The human approach to the design is encapsulated by the ruches adorning its front aircurtain and flanks. Each impulse ripple has a different length and is positioned at a differentangle to the next so that light falling on the car’s flanks constantly creates the impression ofmovement.

“There’s a great sense of tension and purity in the car’s tautly-drawn sheetmetal and thecrisp shoulder-line crease that runs around the entire car. I wanted to introduce an elementto create a rippling effect in the metal, much like the shockwaves you would see if you threwa stone into a perfectly still mountain lake,” Guillaume says.

The paintwork is a further example of warmth and approachability. Six hand-applied layers ofchrome-effect silver paint are covered in a tanned bronze tint that looks warm and inviting tothe touch. Highly sensitive to changing light conditions, the depth and sheen furtherenhances the concept’s curves and contours.

A single sheet of glass is used for both the windscreen and roof, flowing from the base of theA-pillar and over the cabin to create a vast sky-window, before tapering into a double-bubbleover the rear passenger compartment. The rakishness of the car’s high shoulders andnarrow glasshouse are further enhanced by an illuminated dynamic streak that draws theeye from the A-pillar into the C-pillar, ending with an integrated lateral turn signal.

The front turn signals, located high up on the sharp-edged bonnet, feature illuminatedglowing elements that appear to float in fins of clear acrylic glass. The rear lights are equallycompelling. The turn signals are housed within deep-set tunnels to create a threedimensional effect, with the looped lights extending outwards as they grow in size. Horizontalwrap-around brake light strips create a visual link with the Kia Stinger.

The lighting systems play a key role in underlining the concept car’s friendliness andaccessibility. “The flush-fitting Kia script on the front of the concept lights up and glows asthe driver approaches the car, followed by the illuminated tiger mask – a welcoming gestureto the driver at the start of the journey,” explains Guillaume.

Even the wheels contribute to the visual relationship that the car has with the movement oflight. Each of the 22-inch alloy wheels has four flush inserts of transparent acrylic glass,polished at the front and diamond cross-cut at the back, to reflect and refract the light, muchlike a cut diamond would, as the wheels move. The wheels themselves are shod withbespoke Goodyear 255/35 R22 Intelligrip EV concept tyres.*

Guillaume and his design team also focused a great deal of their attention on the vehicle’saerodynamics, ensuring the car sliced as cleanly as possible through the air to reduceturbulence and extend its range.

“The front air curtain; the way the double-skin bonnet channels air through the nose, up andover the front screen and roof; the double skinned C-pillar that creates an air spoiler; thecompletely enclosed underbody; the wind-cheating ‘wingcams’ and the hard-edged breakaway around the car’s rear – all these features collectively boost aerodynamic efficiency andreduce turbulence and drag,” Guillaume explains.

“We wanted the interior to have a twinkle in its eye, to be full of surprising and delightfultouches that amuse, engage and attract both driver and passenger alike,” explains RalphKluge, Kia Motors Europe’s general manager of interior design.

The layout of the powertrain created a chassis architecture that is distinctly different to thatof a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. It’s a layout that Guillaume and histeam fully exploited to maximise cabin space and create an airy and spacious interior – andone with a wry sense of humour, too.

21 individual ultra high-resolution screens curve their synchronised way across the top of thedashboard in a layout that’s at the same time both casual and co-ordinated. It takes just asingle glance to understand what Kluge means. “These 21 incredibly thin screens are ahumorous and irreverent riposte to the on-going competition between some automotivemanufacturers to see who can produce the car with the biggest screen,” says Kluge.

They may form a striking sculptural feature that neatly ties in with the rippling and lightreflecting exterior design motifs, but this screen-wall is also highly functional. It effectivelycreates a single unified display from the driver’s point of view, without the ever-increasingbulk and rigidity of traditional in-car displays – a fresh and witty approach on how to moveaway from traditional fixed screens.

“It’s an immersive display delivering information on the car’s climate control, birds-eyenavigation, drive and media systems. The screens will also display a raft of Kia conceptsfrom years gone by to create an emotional link between past, present and future,” saysKluge. “With this arresting combination of artistry and information we’re drawing onmemories of our past in a car that’s heading straight into our future.”

The cabin’s sense of light-heartedness is underpinned by the striking shockwave design ofthe four leather and silk-covered seats. “We wanted to create a polarity between how thechairs look and feel. Their diamond cross-cut shells look slim and lightweight but they are actually incredibly strong and robust,” adds Kluge, “and when you sit in them, you discoverthat the seats are very comfortable and supportive.”

The cabin’s airy atmosphere is further enhanced by the floating centre console that, like awing, hovers independently above the low and flat floor. The doors – rear-hinged at the backfor greater access – are swathed in a metallic fabric and leather, visually splitting the cabininto two distinct upper and lower levels. “The goal was to create an interior that felt decluttered rather than de-contented,” says Kluge. “This approach is also reflected in the tactilesculpted steering wheel and the pedals that are recessed when the car is stationary.”

The versatility of the all-electric architecture has not only enabled the Kia design team tocreate this open and spacious interior for passengers, but also for their luggage. Imagine byKia boasts two capacious loadbays: a ‘frunk’ front trunk and a traditional rear storage areaaccessed through the glass hatch.

“As you all know, Kia prides itself on our power to surprise, and it’s this unorthodox approachthat fired our collective imagination, moving us away from the rational, to embrace a warmerand more human approach to electrification,” says Guillaume.

“We imagined designing an all-electric car that not only answered consumer concernsaround range, performance, recharging networks and driving dynamism, but one that alsogave you goose bumps when you looked at it, and made the hairs on the back of your neckstand up when you drove it.

“We imagined a future where engaging and dynamic cars like this were an integral part ofour transport requirements. So it will come as no surprise then that we have named our newconcept ‘Imagine by Kia’. And its message is clear,” says Guillaume. “It’s time to free yourimagination, to stop wondering and to start driving!”