If we take every prediction and assertion from the auto industry at face value, 2020 is going to be an incredible year for the automotive industry, with more and more automakers picking five years hence as the start of a massive change in the way we drive our cars, use our cars, and fuel our cars.
Aside from being the year that Toyota promises its second-generation, more affordable hydrogen fuel cell technology will hit the market, 2020 is also the year that both Tesla Motors and Nissan promise we’ll be driven by our fully autonomous electric cars. And that’s before you account for the 500-mile electric car Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks will be on the market by then.
Now we can add South Korean automaker Kia to the list of automakers promising great things by 2020 with the simultaneous announcement that it plans to launch a range of ‘green vehicles’ in the next five years which both revolutionise the brand’s lineup but also pave the way towards the introduction of Kia’s own autonomous driving technology by 2020.
In a quartet of press releases yesterday, Kia unveiled a $2 billion investment program in developing a fully-autonomous vehicle, previewed its intent to bring an all-new hybrid crossover called the Niro to market in the near future, confirmed a brand-new Kia Optima plug-in hybrid for launch in 2016, and promised a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle by 2020.
Each distinct announcement is part of Kia’s mid to long-term plans for developing and transforming its brand into one which offers a range of low emission, connected vehicles, with what appears to be a heavy emphasis on plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.
That emphasis is backed by a new ₩11.3 trillion ($10.2 billion U.S.) investment from its parent company Hyundai, which will be spent on both developing a new range of new vehicles as well as building the facilities required for the engineering, testing and production of such vehicles.
“Global market demand is shifting to electric vehicles, with oil prices predicted to rise in [the] future,” said Ki-Sang Lee, Senior Vice President of Kia Motors’ Eco Friendly Vehicle Research and Development Center. “The electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle market will grow rapidly in the coming years, and this investment will enable Kia to meet the growing demand with a range advanced new products and technologies.”
Of its autonomous vehicle program, Kia released pictures showing a prototype autonomous Kia Soul EV. Like Nissan’s most recent autonomous LEAF, the Autonomous Kia Soul EV looks fairly standard compared to a non autonomous Kia Soul EV. Look more closely however, and you’ll see a few hidden sensors protruding here and there that hints at its autonomous drive capabilities.
Unlike Nissan’s very public demonstration however, Kia’s autonomous drive program has yet to be seen in action.
Joining the Kia Soul EV in the marketplace next year will be the 2016 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid. Based on the same plug-in hybrid drivetrain found in the 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid, the 2015 Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid will offer some 27-miles of all-electric range from a 9.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, and a gasoline-only fuel economy around 40 mpg combined.
While not all markets will get it, the Kia Optima will also be offered with a hybrid option, just like the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in the U.S.
While the Kia Optima Plug-in Hybrid and Kia Optima Hybrid models are well on their way to production however, Kia’s third announcement — that of a brand-new hybrid crossover called the Niro, is still very much in pre-production phase.
The press release announcing it, just three paragraphs long, talks of a ground-up, brand-new design which will become Kia’s first dedicated eco-car platform. Initially, this vehicle will be offered with a hybrid drivetrain — and we suspect will be similar in appearance to the Kia Trail’Ster concept we saw at the Chicago Auto Show.
Moving forward however, Kia hints that the Niro could eventually accommodate a variety of different drivetrain technologies, including we presume an all-electric and hydrogen fuel cell platform.
Which brings us nicely to the final piece of news: a complete shift in the Kia family towards environmentally-friendly electric and electrified drivetrains. Benefiting from the research and development of its parent company Hyundai, Kia has said it expects to produce more electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the short term, but will have its own hydrogen fuel cell vehicle on the market by 2020 — just around the same time as its autonomous vehicle technology launches.
As we said, 2020 is going to be a very interesting year indeed.
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