Design & Technology / Product

Leaving a Greener Footprint April 25th, 2014

We all know that the earth is hurting. In light of this past Earth Day, we look to spotlight Kia’s efforts to build a greener planet, starting with our vehicles. We‘ve been hearing about global warming for over a decade, along with how our daily lifestyles contribute to mounting environmental problems. Recently, governments in the U.S., China, Europe, Japan and Korea have passed major legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 95 g/km by the year 2020. The main issue here is reducing the world‘s carbon footprint, and well, the motor industry is doing its part. Motor companies have been making increased efforts to be part of the change and lessen the world‘s carbon footprint. Take electric and hybrid electric vehicles. They are more than just a trend. They are a good example of how advanced technology is slowly helping to shape a better future.

Kia has also been working hard to develop technologies that embody this ‘green’ mindset. In 2012, the average CO2 emissions for new Kia vehicles registered in the European market came in at about 129.5 g/km. Compared to the 167 g/km of ten years ago, each vehicle is emitting 22.5% less CO2 that it was 8 years ago. In the last year alone, there was a 5.5% decrease, a sign that things are really gaining momentum.

Kia works towards improving the efficiency of our vehicles by continuing our research on internal combustion engines and on innovative alternatives to oil. We talked to expert Hyewon Kim, Research Engineer with the Eco Technology Planning & Management Team at Kia’s Namyang R&D Center in Korea, who tells us about the latest developments in Kia‘s green movement.

What is the biggest environmental issue that automakers face today?
Kim: Many countries are tightening regulations on fuel efficiency and emissions in response to increased amounts of air pollution. This makes eco-friendly cars, such as hybrids and electric cars, something of a no-brainer for automakers. The biggest takeaway we‘ve learned is to focus on manufacturing fuel-efficient cars that increasingly rely on electric power, while keeping the same price tag as cars  powered by internal combustion engines. Automakers who can meet these demands while staying on top of their eco-friendly game clearly have an edge in the market.

What kind of efforts has Kia been making to alleviate these environmental problems caused by vehicle carbon emission?
Kim: In addition to developing electric vehicles, Kia is investing in other eco-friendly cars and technologies such as hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell technology. In 2011, Kia introduced its first hybrid vehicle for the global market, the Optima Hybrid, fully equipped with original technologies developed by Kia. Optima Hybrid was first sold in North America, Korea and Europe, and it is now available in other regions of the world. And as seen by the recent release of the K7 (Cadenza) Hybrid (currently only available in South Korea), we plan on developing hybrid versions of our other vehicles in different segments. Meanwhile, we continue to extend our research and invest in the development of electric vehicles, and we‘ve also created a road map to ultimately develop a completely zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

What types of technologies in Kia’s ‘green lineup’ help to lessen the harmful impact on the environment?
Kim: Kia Motors boasts a full lineup of passenger cars, RVs, and commercial vehicles whose ‘greenness’ and safety are verified through a variety of domestic and international assessments. Every green vehicle is equipped with a battery and electric motor that propel the car forward. Because of this, one of the most important environmental technologies is called regenerative braking. When the driver steps on the brake pedal to slow down, the inertia of the motor is converted into electrical energy, which in turn charges the battery. In addition, the vehicles in our green lineup are also equipped with the Auto Stop & Start system. The engine automatically stops when the vehicle comes to a standstill and then starts back up again when the vehicle is in motion. The oil pumps in the vehicle engines are also electronically controlled.

Which Kia vehicle best embodies Kia‘s efforts aimed at environmental preservation and why? What features does it exhibit?
Kim: I would say the Soul EV, which just went on sale in Korea this month. The Soul EV, compared to many other electric vehicles in the same class, boasts one of the longest driving ranges on a single charge. In addition, it received the Environmental Claim Validation from UL, a renowned safety consulting and certification company based in the U.S.—a first in the automotive industry. With the Environmental Claim Validation eco-label, Soul EV has received an official stamp of approval for using bio-based organic carbon content for 10% of its interior materials. All of these environmentally-friendly aspects make the Soul EV an attractive choice for all environmentally-conscious drivers, and even locally in the Korean market, I would say the Soul EV will lead the way for further development of future electric vehicles.

What’s the biggest problem eco-friendly technology researchers face these days?
Kim: The greatest barrier at this point would probably be vehicle price. The systems that power electric and hybrid vehicles are much pricier than internal combustion engines found in conventional cars.  Although the related technologies are already quite advanced, more funding and research it still required to further develop the advanced components—batteries, electric motors and inverters—that power hybrid and electric vehicles. The price to develop these components is costly. Even the hydrogen fuel cell electric power generation device (fuel cell stack), for instance, uses the rare metal, platinum. Although it only uses a miniscule amount, the platinum drives up the price of the whole vehicle. All of the researchers at Kia are trying our best to research other methods and develop our own technologies that can help reduce production costs. But aside from hybrid vehicle technologies, the infrastructure for vehicle charging must also be considered. We think Kia’s investment has been worth all our effort, because in the long run we hope that our innovations will set a higher standard for an affordable, eco-friendly driving experience.