As it expands its electric offerings, KIA made a conscious decision: it will elevate the role of design and designers.
“It really is an organization that really understands the importance of design,” said Karim Habib, the automaker’s global head of design, as we sat on a balcony in Seoul, overlooking the brand’s latest battery-powered vehicle. , the EV9. “Where design thinking and design is increasingly becoming a real strategy for defining not only how things look, but also the products you build.”
The new importance is seen in this offering. SUVs certainly dominate the global automotive landscape, but when the EV9 goes on sale later this year, Kia will be among the first to market an all-electric SUV with a truly serviceable third row. And the brand took the opportunity to create a design that, while not as outrageous as the concept he showed in 2021 (missing rear-hinged rear doors and side mirror cameras) is a pretty amazing derivative of its show-car version. In fact, its heavily creased and flared fenders, grilleless cyborg front end, and ski jumping rear pillar treatment give it more of a family resemblance to The Hyundai Ioniq 5 that of Kia’s own EV6.
We are not complaining. The EV9 is a stunner, with the kind of bold, authoritative presence usually reserved for vehicles that cost two or three times as much, including icons like the Mercedes-Benz G-wagen Or Range Rover. It is positively chiseled, as if the brand is popular Three-row Telluride SUValready beautiful truck, got into cool sculpting, then trained with Tom Cruise’s trainer. It’s bold without being threatening like the GMC Hummer SUV or (gasp) the odious Cybertrucka compelling result of Kia’s iterative process, which is not meant to shock but to improve.
“I work with engineers and product managers every day, and they’re always trying to make a better product. Being proud of the products they make,” Habib said. “And I think the legacy is really good because that it pushes us to do bold things.”
That grit continues inside, where premium materials like leather, knurled and perforated metal, recycled fabrics and even a bizarre jade-like faux stone trim dominate. The latter is a new background for the company’s haptic touch buttons, a true upgrade from the current “piano black”, otherwise known as “gloss black plastic”. Thoughtful touches, cubbies and bins abound, and we can only hope regulations allow us to accommodate the second-row swivel captain’s chairs that offer both easy access for loading kids (and their seats giants), and swing out completely to create a cabin-like rear compartment.
Interior space is rather large, especially compared to ICE-powered vehicles of similar exterior size, a result of Kia’s strategy of creating exclusive bases for their electric vehicles, instead of converting them from gasoline vehicles. like the next electrified versions of the Range Rover and G-Wagen.
“As a group and as a company, we have decided to look towards platforms dedicated to electric vehicles, because it gives you the opportunity to play with space in a completely different way. the dimensions of it will be like a mid-size SUV, the interior space is like a full-size big truck,” said Kia Global Brand Director Artur Martins. “You can use the flat ground. You can have a shorter engine bay because there is no engine. You can play with the overhang and proportions front and rear to make it shorter. And that long wheelbase allows us to take advantage of this space, whereas if we decide to grab Tellurideremoving the engine and electrifying Telluride, we would be much more limited in what we could do with the space.
Pricing has not been announced, but experts expect the EV9 to start in the mid to high $50,000 range. It’s not exactly luxury territory. But the brand’s early and strongly crafted entries into the electric vehicle have also enabled it to take advantage of current electric vehicle paradigms, where a combination of several new brands, stylistic experimentation and disambiguation of price, performance and functionality has resulted in the increasing availability of powerful battery power.
“I think there’s a very psychological principle behind it,” Martins said. “That is, before You’re here, it was in the minds of consumers that cars had to be produced for more than one or two decades to be able to have a good quality product. Tesla has smashed that in the minds of consumers these days. You can be two years old building cars and you’re already a premium brand.
All of this, combined with a growing agnosticism towards the brand, has given Kia a boost, especially as mainstream customers turn to their first electric vehicle.
“Kia (now) comes out on top and gets added to the overall consideration, whereas in the past we wouldn’t be on this list,” Martins said. “So that’s where the opportunity lies for us. And products like EV6 and EV9 are really helping us reshape the brand for the future.
Habib echoes this sentiment from a design perspective.
“The move to electric vehicles has even allowed us to think of ourselves in a different way. Because there’s no, let’s say, inferiority complex in not having the big 12-cylinder, and that equates to luxury. That isn’t there anymore,” he said. “It allows us to see things in a very different way, in a more confident way, in a more capable way of trying to be at the cutting edge of electric vehicles.”
If this is Kia just getting started in this space – and it has plans for many more EVs in the near future – we’re excited to see what it tries next.