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Kia's Electric Concept for the Future: Finding Naimo

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author photo by Autotrader April 2011

As Hyundai and Kia grow in stature as car makers, there’s a corresponding growth in confidence. One aspect is the moving away from the “build a Japanese car from five years ago, but make it cheaper” approach. Now they are making cars at least as good, if not better, than many contemporary Japanese cars. Bolder styling is another. In Kia’s case, that’s thanks to the hiring of Peter Schreyer – one of the men responsible for the Audi TT – as chief designer.

Although Schreyer is a Westerner, born in Germany, the latest creation from Kia displays aspects of Korean culture with pride, which is all the more fitting since it has just debuted at the 2011 Seoul Motor Show. This is the intriguing Naimo concept, a four-seater, subcompact crossover utility vehicle with an all-electric drivetrain.

Being a concept car means its designers can let their creativity loose, unfettered by costs or production procedures. Hence an interior with trim – and a floor – of Korean oak. The headliner is made from han-ji, a special paper formed from the bark of a native Korean tree and used in the country for centuries.

However, part of Korean culture is to blend the simple with the complex; the Naimo has organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) in its instrument panel. Those little dots under the headlights are also LEDs. And to keep those simple, chunky exterior lines as uncluttered as possible, the car substitutes door mirrors for tiny rear-facing cameras in the A-pillars, and dispenses with windshield wipers altogether – deploying instead a high-intensity jet of air coming from the base of the screen to keep it clear.

“Naimo is a perfect balance of innovation, high-tech and tradition,” said Schreyer, “inspired by the purity and grace of traditional Korean arts and crafts, but combined with cutting-edge technologies.”

Another of those technologies is under the oak floor. It’s a pack of lithium-ion polymer batteries – which could well be the next phase of energy storage for electric and hybrid cars. It powers an electric motor that can muster up 107 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque, sending the car to a top speed of 93 mph.

Modest numbers, for sure, but the Naimo is meant to be more of a city car and its lithium-ion polymer batteries have a range of up to 124 miles (for comparison’s sake, a 2011 Nissan Leaf’s range is 73 miles, according to the EPA). They can also be replenished to 80 percent capacity in just 25 minutes under a quick charge mode, or 100 percent in five hours, 30 minutes in normal mode. Most electric-car batteries need eight hours to recharge fully.

Incidentally, Naimo is pronounced neh-mo, coming from the term ne-mo, which means “square shape” in Korean. And here comes the usual concept car disclaimer: it will not go into production. But it will join Kia’s test fleet to help in the development of future low- and zero-emissions vehicles.

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Kia's Electric Concept for the Future: Finding Naimo - Autotrader