Kia Goes Pop!

The Story
Kia has announced plans to unveil the Kia Pop concept vehicleduring the upcoming Paris Auto Show in September, putting the Korean automaker into the small-sized city electric vehicle game with Toyota, Honda and others. While the Pop is a concept, it will likely soon move into production design, losing much of its futuristic look to the realities of mass-market manufacturing. Still, from the sheetmetal to its electric powerplant, this is a mini car that promises big things for Kia and consumers.Why it Matters
Long content to build efficient smaller cars using traditional design and powertrain platforms, Kia is jumping headlong into the hybrid/electric game. The Pop is the most recent example, after the Kia Ray hybrid debut at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show. This Pop promises something much different in that it foreshadows Kia’s entry into what is now a hotly contested urban segment. Unlike the coming Honda Fit hybrid variant, however, the Pop offers a striking – if polarizing – design built on top of an electric motor. Judging by the success of the Soul, among other new Kia designs, it’s safe to say that the Pop will ultimately evolve into a hip and popular urban get-about.

What’s Unique
First, it’s small. Really small, as in 10 feet long. Second, it’s, well, cute. Some would go so far as to say that the Pop is Hello Kitty cute, which actually may be true. One thing for sure is that we’re not going to see many more radical designs than the Pop. On the inside, the Pop sports a purple interior (Hello, Kitty!) and seats three: two up front and one in the back. Call the back seat the Teletubbies Time Out Chair, and be sure you never find yourself stuck there.

The outside features some new design work combined with a few old friends, such as a panoramic sunroof and oval-shaped windows on the side. Perhaps most unique, however, is the lighting: pincer-like up front leds make this design exercise look more aggressive and allow Kia to claim that the Pop is a total zero-emission vehicle.

What it Means to the Industry
The drive for small urban vehicles continues, even though margins are likely low and recent sales reports show that people are headed back to larger vehicles. Despite this, demographic shifts back to city centers show that there’s little doubt a growing market of people desire very small and very conservation-oriented vehicles. With Kia introducing their second such vehicle (the Kia Ray debuted at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show) it signals increased competition for the likes of Toyota’s Scion IQ and the coming Honda Fit/Jazz Hybrid, Smart Fortwo, among others.

What it Means to Consumers
Choice is good, and with Kia in the game consumers will have another type of cool to consider.

When Available
Kia is mum on details, so look for the debut in Paris to reveal more about production plans and specifications. Probably safe to count on the Pop coming over to the US, however.

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