The most trending keywords currently dominating the automobile market are ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘SUV’. Versatile SUVs have been consistently popular since the 2010s, and rapid climate change is spurring the emergence of eco-friendly vehicles. In line with these changes, several automakers have recently introduced various SUVs equipped with eco-friendly technologies. But in fact, there is a real hero who has led the eco-friendly SUV trend - the all-electric, eco-friendly SUV ‘Niro’ that Kia unveiled back in 2016.
The Niro is equipped with an eco-friendly powertrain and has greatly contributed to the expansion of the eco-friendly SUV market not only in Korea but also in Europe and the United States. And at the 2021 Seoul Mobility Show, the second-generation new Niro was unveiled for the first time. How did the new Niro evolve to house Kia’s new design philosophy - ‘Opposites United (creative fusion of contrasting concepts)’? Hwan-Wook Baek, a senior researcher of the exterior design team of Kia, who was in charge of the exterior design of the new Niro, and Jong-myeong Yun, senior researcher of the Kia exterior design team 2, took a look at the new Niro together.
Q. How did you depict Opposites United, Kia's design philosophy, in the exterior design of the new Niro?
Kia’s new design philosophy, Opposites United, aims for the creative fusion of opposing concepts. This concept is inspired by the harmonious coexistence of contrasting elements in Mother Nature to create a future-oriented design. The exterior of the new Niro was completed in an original design using various methods based on ‘Joy for Reason’, one of the design elements of Opposites United.
The new Niro is an SUV with individuality by utilizing unique elements, emphasizing an active and iconic feeling through lively colors inspired by outdoor equipment and funky fashion items. The main factor that creates this atmosphere is the unique combination of materials and graphics - for example, the cladding at the bottom of the body that emphasizes visual connectivity and the unique C-pillar expressing a unique feeling. In addition, the contrast between the upper / lower radiator grills with a neat surface and the three-dimensional skid plate shows that sophisticated yet high-tech elements and bold yet three-dimensional elements are delicately harmonized.
Q. What part of the exterior design shows ‘Joy for Reason’, one of the elements of Opposites United?
Niro houses a design that encompasses practicality, advanced technology for comfortable movement, and a sense of spaciousness so that sustainability-conscious consumers can experience an emotional pleasure. In addition, the aerodynamic design to increase fuel efficiency satisfies the driver’s emotional needs by featuring not just a function, but also a unique character. This is how the design could be both eco-friendly and fun at the same time; one particular example is the C-pillar.
Aerodynamics, which greatly affects fuel efficiency and driving performance, is a very important factor in automobiles. For such an eco-friendly SUV like Niro, excellent fuel efficiency is a must. In particular, the rear edge is the part where the air vortex that flows backward on the car body is the most severe; Creating a gap between the car body and the C-pillar reduces drag, hence improving fuel efficiency, and this is a design feature of the new Niro. Owners can also choose a different C-pillar color from the body shade. Such an attempt to give a character to a function is the ‘Joy for Reason’ that Niro pursues.
Q. I know that there was a lot of thought to make this model more SUV-like. What are the SUV characteristics that can be found in the new Niro?
The atmosphere of the SUV comes from its dignified stance. From the front, the chrome garnish that stretches out thinly from the front to the fenders on both sides of the wheel gives high-tech sensitivity and completes a spacious and stable stance. The large lower grille, which looks in contrast to the upper slim radiator grille, lowers the center of gravity to create a stable and strong SUV image. In addition, the bold cladding that started from the front and ran down the bottom of the body pursued the feel of a solid SUV and emphasized the off-roader image with skid plates (decorations that protect the body) with clear contours at the front and back.
Q. The rear lamp that climbs up to the roof of the car looks unique. The atmosphere on the back has also changed significantly. Please explain these characteristics.
The first impression of a car depends on the lamp design. I wanted to design the lamp so that opposing elements can harmoniously permeate like Kia’s new design philosophy while giving characteristics to the lamp, which acts as an important factor. After much thought, I was able to implement a uniquely shaped lamp that digs into the C-pillar of the car body without making a separate lamp. The vertical rear lamp at the end of the body makes the vehicle look wider, and the horizontal brake lamp at the top of the rear spoiler makes the car look even bolder; and the rear lamp, which harmonizes with the dynamic form and sophisticated details, is one of the most favorite parts of the exterior design.
The lamp under the vehicle serves as both a turn signal and a reversing light. The same type of lamp was applied to achieve unity with the LED daytime running lights on the front part that resembled a heartbeat. As such, the rear lamps are scattered across the C-pillar and bumper according to the design and function, creating a wide and stable posture and a future-oriented rearview.
Q. The auto market for models like this Niro is already a red ocean. There are many competitors of Niro not only in Korea but also in the US and Europe. What are the unique design strengths of the new Niro?
The new Niro has returned with stronger marketability by adding a sensuous design to the existing model’s strengths such as excellent fuel efficiency and excellent space utilization. Intense colors, heart-beating LED daytime running lights that express dynamism and uniqueness, and the C-pillar with a clear identity are characteristics that fully reveal Niro’s competitiveness in such a saturated market. I believe that the design with a solid and modern body and bold touches will act as an important factor in completing the unique image of Niro in the middle of fierce competition.
Q. What are the differences in appearance between the hybrid model of the new Niro and the electric one?
You can feel the noticeable difference in the front. The hybrid model emphasized the confident SUV feel by applying a large radiator grille and skid plate. On the other hand, the electric model takes advantage of the characteristics of electric vehicles that do not require much cooling, features a three-dimensional hexagon pattern instead blocking the upper grill and reducing the lower grill. In addition, unlike the previous model, the charging port was moved to the center of the front part to improve charging convenience and used as a design element to emphasize the image of electric vehicles. Another characteristic of Niro Electric is that the front and rear bumpers have been expanded in the same color as the body to emphasize a clean atmosphere.
Q. Is there a design feature you would like the owners of the new Niro to pay attention to?
The new Niro is a model that will symbolize Kia’s new design philosophy, Opposites United. A refined and adventurous SUV design is realized with a wider space with a 3rd-generation platform, a simple yet strong body, and an aerodynamic design that stands out with technical sensibility. In particular, the presence and dynamic image of Niro have been strengthened through the boomerang-shaped C-pillar.
In addition, the striking lines along with bold and ample volume - the contrasting proportions of the upper / lower radiator grills that feature the design philosophy, the horizontal sharp lines of the chrome garnishes, and the unique C-pillar - is the automaker’s aim of design. Focusing on these elements, you will be able to experience the charm of the new Niro that no other models can give.
Photography by Min-Seok Cho
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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