Design & Technology / Product

Kia Ray Exterior Design Story February 11th, 2010

Massimo FrascellaBy Massimo Frascella
Design Manager
Kia Design Center America








What makes design a fascinating aspect of our life is the never ending challenge of imagining and shaping our future. We constantly “live” at least three years ahead of time, because what we do today will only happen a few years later. We all like to dream, and if designing a production vehicle keeps you in the real world, a show car can actually make your dreams come true.

We were asked to imagine how a future Kia hybrid would look; not a generic hybrid, but a compact 4 door sedan with plug-in hybrid technology. Now, that is a challenge! Compact sedans are amongst the most difficult packages to work with because of the size and we knew that the “aero efficiency” of a hybrid would give us further restrictions.

Regardless, we were so excited!

The first question we asked ourselves was: why do hybrid cars have to look awkward and uninspiring? Why can’t we have something that is highly efficient and still look sexy? We knew right away that was what we wanted: to set ourselves apart from the rest, delivering a beautiful, emotional hybrid car for everyday use. Something that you wouldn’t feel embarrassed driving, but actually feel proud to be seen in.

The next step was “The Kia Way.” We wanted to this car to “scream” Kia from every angle, continuing and evolving the design direction we have taken and the great image we are building. Surface treatments, graphic lines and details… all needed to take our brand to the next level.

The fun began! We all started sketching, gathering materials, technologies, products and reviewing our work together with the interior and color and trim designers. Using the theme of “iconic efficiency” we began developing the Kia Ray: Iconic, as in the mono volume shape of the car that instantly says absolutely aerodynamic, efficiency, as in functionally effective design that saves energy. We selected a few themes to be developed 1:4 scale clay models. All the different proposals were heading in the right direction but in the end we felt that one in particular was displaying exactly the image we were looking for.

After digitally scanning the scale model, we used the data to mill a full size clay model to continue our design.

When I first started sketching I was thinking about aircrafts as a perfect combination of beautiful and dynamic design and, of course, extremely high aero efficiency. I knew that if I was able to capture that philosophy I would have had a great design for our car. I truly believe in rational and clean design, the less is more approach, where everything is there for a reason.

Functional details turn into styling elements and always give you a unique and purposeful look. The flushness of elements became very important with no exposed head/tail lamps, retractable side mirrors and a smooth seamless under body. The front fog lamps open up to let air cooling only when the conventional engine is being used. The doors shut line characterizes the side view with cut out that ease ingress and egress and conveys a sense of precision.

The body side section has an uncommon curvature that gives the car a fuselage like appearance and increases aerodynamics. Rear fenders and spoiler slide back to improve the overall Cd at higher speed. Narrow tire width allowed us a flush wheel design.

The hexagon pattern throughout the car represents the honey comb structure that brings extreme rigidity and lightness to the vehicle and becomes a signature theme as for the roof solar cells. Extensive use of glass surfaces was adopted in order to bring an airy and enjoyable experience as well as expose technology like the battery charge meter and the solar cells under the hood.

But, as I said, aero efficiency was not the only key for us. We wanted the car to look cool! From here, we didn’t want to compromise on elements that are more typically “road” oriented.

At the end of the day it is a car so it has to look dynamic even standing still! Beautifully crafted wheel flares and pronounced shoulders at the back give our model a great presence and stance and the front negative angle, inspired by F1 racing cars, along with the lower wing supports a sporty and forceful appearance.

An extremely sleek silhouette was a priority for us and we played the balance of volumes to achieve dynamic proportions with a slight mono volume profile. In the end, the car can accommodate four full seats retaining an almost coupe like character.

In conclusion, a lot of work went behind the design of this car and involved collaboration from each department. This is a milestone for the Kia brand, showcasing future technologies and its first dedicated hybrid vehicle with our new design philosophy. We are very proud with the final result and excited to share our efforts with all of you.

  • kopee

    Great Job KIA nd especially Mr Frascella,dis is just awesome…LOVE IT

  • jtz

    Finally some hybrid that doesn’t look like a Prius, Insight or Nissan Leaf. A hybrid that looks attrative and not an ugly Chevy Volt. A hybrid that looks like a coupe but is actaully a sedan. A hybrid that has groundbreaking mpg and turns heads. A hybrid that is so upscale it ‘s just wow!!. I hope you guys plan on bringing those design cues into production. The light up siganure grille should be on your to make production list. As well as the cameras instead of those tradition exterior mirros. Also, can we get an available rear spoiler? I want on in dark blue or black. And this entire time I thought by driving a hybrid I would have to sacrifice design just so I can get a good tax break. Lol.

  • jtz

    Can you guys put more photos with the Ray’s grille lit? That’s the only photo I saw so far. This is one hell of a design especailly when the grille is lit.

  • It’s amazing. I can’t wait for it. Really well done. Congrats Kia designers. Great job.

  • Adam

    WOW! It has been a long time since I have seen a concept car that was beautiful, stylish, practical, AND a hybrid! Kia, PLEASE move this concept to the production floor. I’ll be at the dealership’s doors waiting!

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  • Dr. J

    This ia a great design. Congrads to the designer and staff. Can’t wait till its put into production!

  • Vixis

    WOW! Now this is unique, I love the suicide doors like those cars from the 60’s. Only one problem, with the windshield/roof being 1 piece, something happens…then what? I can also see this being a problem should the car end up in a rollover situation, nice design..needs tweeking for cabin/driver protection.

  • Is this a plug-in hybrid?

  • Dave Crabb

    nice one. Please spec up as serious ev, with diesel back up generation for range and predominantly electric power train (with plug in) or mixture and i am a buyer. The kea goes great so i am looking for something impressive from you to replace.


  • I finally found a place where appreciation for this great design is being expressed. I knew I couldn’t be alone. I echo all of the above comments, all of them. What a design and engineering team you have.

    We are all waiting.

    Will there be a Kia Buzz blog just for the Ray?

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  • Can I generate results straight away or will it take a bit to show up?

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  • I take in consideration the car features as primary and look as secondary.For example,why i decided to get a hybrid?It’s about being fuel efficient while preventing pollution.In this way,a double purpose gain from driving my car.