Now’s a good time, if there ever is one, to be looking at large SUVs. Gas prices are depressed, the options are plenty, and the economy — for the most part — is doing pretty well. Kia sees this, and wants to get in on the action. Again.
Kia actually made a pretty valiant attempt at the body-on-frame SUV market a few years ago. A bastion generally held by Detroit’s Big Three, it’s been punctured ever so slightly by Toyota (with the Sequoia, 4Runner, and Land Cruiser) and Nissan (with the Armada and XTerra). But for the most part, it’s still owned by the likes of the Chevy Tahoe or Ford Expedition.
Kia’s experiment, which some might remember as the Borrego, gained so little traction that the model was discontinued in the U.S. after just a year. Which is sad, because it didn’t look terrible, and wasn’t a horrible SUV. Older and wiser, Kia’s coming back after the establishment with a new concept, which it teased shortly before it takes the stage at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.
There’s not much we can derive from the teaser image above, but chances are it’ll have three rows. The side profile looks good — like Audi’s new Q7 and Volvo’s new XC90 got together in a Korean design studio. The huge rims and embedded door handles go to prove that we’re not looking at a production vehicle, though there was never really any doubt there. Kia promises that the concept — so far unnamed — will “[include] state-of-the-art health-and-wellness technology” and “takes Kia’s design language in a bold new direction, suggesting styling of a possible future premium large SUV in the brand’s lineup.”
We do know a bit more about Kia’s other announcement, though: The Korean company is aiming to have a fully autonomous car on roads by 2030, under a new sub-brand called Drive-Wise.
“Kia is undergoing a very promising and gradual process of introducing partially and fully autonomous technologies to its vehicles,” said Tae-Won Lim, the Senior Vice President at the Central Advanced Research and Engineering Institute of Hyundai Motor Group. “Although the first marketable fully-autonomous car from Kia will not be available in the immediate future, the work our R&D teams are currently doing to develop our range of DRIVE WISE technologies is already improving on-road safety and driver assistance. The innovations presented at this year’s [Detroit auto] show demonstrate the future direction we are taking.”
Kia expects to have a partially-autonomous vehicle on roads by 2020 (that’s just four years from now), something that’s probably more akin to Tesla’s current Model S’s autonomous capabilities. Keeping with the times, the cars appear to be compatible with smartwatch apps, allowing drivers (users?) to issue commands from their wrists — inside or outside the vehicle.
It’s unclear if Drive Wise will have its own dedicated vehicles or use existing Kia cars outfitted with the equipment (like the Soul pictured above). Each will have an Orwellian-sounding “Human Machine Interface” that, like Volkswagen’s new Touch software, will include gesture control, fingerprint sensors and smart-device connectivity and allow “drivers” to save settings on an “account” — like your Netflix account.
It’s one thing to have autonomous Teslas, Mercedes-Benzes, and BMWs. But when the world’s economy car jumps in? That’s the point of no return — autonomous cars are here to stay, for better or for worse.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.