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How Kia went from peddling econoboxes to challenging BMW

Even the younger ones among us remember the time when driving a Kia was the automotive equivalent of drinking Shasta soda. We’re talking about the not-too-distant era when Kia’s flagship model, the Amanti, looked like a Mercedes-Benz E-Class viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. Few took much notice.

The ones who did explained the purchase with a resigned shrug. “We considered hiding the fact that it’s a Kia.” But then, something unexpected happened; Kia evolved.

Its cars began to feel appreciably nicer inside, to drive much better, and, importantly, to develop a design identity of their own. Not convinced? Check out the Stinger, a world-class rear-wheel drive sports sedan that’s got enthusiasts excited like citizens of a newly-founded republic.

Digital Trends sat down with Orth Hedrick, Kia Motors America’s vice president of product planning, to get insight on the brand’s astounding transformation. Digital Trends: When I was in high school, about 10 years ago, driving a Kia wasn‘t great. No one aspired to own a Sephia.

Now, you‘ve got the Stinger, which by all accounts is a great car. How do you take a car brand this far in such a short amount of time? Orth Hedrick: If you look at some of the great brands, like SB© toyota and Honda and others, they also had humble beginnings.

Do you remember the original Civic? Or, the Corolla and the Corona from the 1960s? You go through this period and it’s a generational thing.

I think for us, one of the key points is the fact that we have the Kia badge loud and proud on the front and back of the Stinger.

Orth Hedrick, Vice President of Product Planning at Kia Motors America We had this massive discussion about “why don’t we hide the Kia badge and just put Stinger on the front?” We considered hiding the fact that it’s a Kia. We’ve noticed a lot of folks pry the badges off of their Optima.

They love the car but they can’t stand the badge or the brand. I think it’s just going to take time. It’s going to take time and experience in the marketplace.

We’re getting there; we almost made car of the year. That’s huge growth from our design-led transformation and from building vehicles that look as good as they drive. Now, think of someone who is in the market for a new car every six to seven years, which is about average.

There are a lot of people who still remember the “old Kia.” The question is, how do you go about making that transition? It’s time and persistence, and I think eventually it happens. What role has design played in this transformation?

It’s been huge. We coined the first chapter our “design-led transformation.” It was driven a lot by bringing [former Audi designer] Peter Schreyer on-board to change the look and design of our cars. Albert Biermann joined us from BMW to help with vehicle dynamics.

He was heavily involved in the Stinger, which was about a third of the way into development when he joined. He went and actually moved suspension touch down points and made changes to the geometry, which kind of delayed the program because then they had to go back and redo everything. It was so important to get this thing right that the changes were made.

And because of him, and because of the work he’s doing on the performance side, we’re developing the engineering competencies to improve the dynamics and handling of other vehicles. Vehicle dynamics were a huge challenge on the Stinger because it’s a five-door. You’ve got a big opening right above where the suspension is doing its thing.

That was a major, major engineering challenge. It took a lot of time and effort to achieve the stiffness we wanted. Audi was able to do it with the A7, Porsche with the Panamera, and it was a great technical challenge, but we were able to deliver on that.

The payoff is the car handles and feels great. Why develop a car like the Stinger? It was really born out of passion.

I don’t know if you remember the GT concept we had on the show circuit. That was a designer’s dream car. They were figuring out what to put on the circuit and the guys in the Frankfurt studio are the ones that put the car together.

“There wasn’t a business case for the Stinger. It was fueled by passion from the studio.” They grew up when the notion of a gran turismo was big in Europe.

Now, a getaway weekend is Southwest Airlines. You fly down to Nashville. Back in the day they didn’t have that.

They had fast, powerful coupes for two couples to take off with all their stuff on the weekend. They’d go to the south of France, in the vineyards, but they needed to get there in a fast car so they created the GT. It wasn’t about ultimate performance or ultimate Gs; it was about fast and comfortable motoring.

That was very influential for some of our designers. These were the aspirational cars for a young 13-year old guy. When it came time to develop a show car, they said “this is what we were drawing when we were 13; let’s make one of these!” That turned into the GT concept.

It went through the show circuit and got huge response and huge accolades. It fell to the engineering department to figure out how to make one of these things. One of the main points was to move to a five-door body style to get that room in the back for stuff.

It was born out of passion. There wasn’t a business case; it wasn’t like we ran market research and figured out “this is the vector we’re going to take.” It was fueled by passion from the studio. So, there wasn‘t already a product behind it?

No. Six or seven years went by between the time the GT concept first went on the circuit and the time the Stinger came out. We started and we brought Albert on board.

He spent 30 years at BMW. He knows that millimeters on a 20-foot long object that weighs 4,000 pounds make a big difference. Small adjustments; that’s what took so long.

Are there lessons from the Stinger you can apply to other cars? Yes, a lot. On the Forte, we redesigned the sub-frames so that there’s more lateral stiffness but still plenty of compliance on vertical travel.

When you’re going through a corner, the sub-frames are able to keep the wheels in a very specific geometry in relation to the body. You don’t see a lot of movement or sloppiness in the corners. That’s because of those details.

The body-in-white is 16-percent stiffer, too. It provides a very solid foundation for the suspension to do its work. It’s already paying off on cars like the brand-new Forte.

We’re getting fantastic reviews on the new Rio. We hear a lot of people say they can’t believe it’s a sub-compact car. The lead market for that was Europe.

The general feel is that, as time goes on, our cars are going to feel a lot better than previews cars. It’s just getting people to come drive them. To your point, perception of the old cars and the experience they had is quite different than the new cars.

Where do you see the Kia brand going in the next 10 years? We refer to the Stinger as an inflection point. As we sort out what we stand for and what we represent, I think we’re centering around this vibrant and young-at-heart idea.

The cars are part of that personality trait; they show us doing things differently.

The Niro, the Soul, and the Stinger are all good examples of us doing things differently.

They don’t fit a normal recipe or category definition.

Editors’ Recommendations

Apple tipped to launch four iPhones in 2018, and keep the iPhone X on sale

It’s a busy weekend for iPhone rumors, with Asian media outlets reporting several whisperings around Apple’s plans for 2018. We could see as many as four new iPhones appear this year, and it now seems likely that the iPhone X[1] will stay on sale too.

Previous reports had suggested Apple was planning to cancel production of the iPhone[2] X once its successors were on the market, but that’s not the case according to a report from The Investor[3]. It says the current top-tier phone is going to stay as the smallest and presumably the cheapest of the full-sized iPhones.

The same report says new 5.85-inch and 6.46-inch iPhones are in the works, with OLED screens sourced from a increased number of suppliers. That’s all based on “sources” from the supply chain speaking to The Investor, so take it with a pinch of salt for now.

Choose your model

Meanwhile an analyst at DigiTimes[4] weighs in to say four iPhones are in development, three of which will see the light of day: a 5.7 to 5.8-inch LCD model, a 6.0 to 6.1-inch LCD model, and a 6.4 to 6.5-inch OLED model. Obviously everyone can’t be right.

That two-LCD and one-OLED approach would match what Apple did last year with the iPhone 8[5], iPhone 8 Plus[6], and iPhone X. Another model with a 6.0 to 6.1-inch screen is also on the drawing board but is eventually going to be scrapped, DigiTimes says.

The report also claims that a new iPhone SE 2[7] is going to beat all of these full-sized iPhones to the market, arriving sometime in the spring. It will apparently include a glass back for wireless charging, but not the 3D sensing tech required for Face ID.

Via AppleInsider[9]

References

  1. ^ iPhone X (www.techradar.com)
  2. ^ iPhone (www.techradar.com)
  3. ^ The Investor (www.theinvestor.co.kr)
  4. ^ DigiTimes (www.digitimes.com)
  5. ^ iPhone 8 (www.techradar.com)
  6. ^ iPhone 8 Plus (www.techradar.com)
  7. ^ iPhone SE 2 (www.techradar.com)
  8. ^ Here’s what we want to see from the iPhone XI (www.techradar.com)
  9. ^ AppleInsider (appleinsider.com)

List More: Products

Google's AI-powered Clips camera is finally on sale

Remember the Google Clips[1] camera? Announced at Google’s hardware event back in October, the compact, AI-powered snapper has just gone on sale – if you’re in the US, you can now pick one up from the Google Store[2] for $ 249 with free shipping.

Google had never been very clear on availability for the little camera, and as Android Police spotted[3], it arrived on the Google Store without any fanfare. There’s still no word on international availability, and shipping dates are listed as February or even March, so you’re still going to be waiting a while if you put an order in.

If you didn’t notice the small device the first time around, it’s an always-on camera that uses artificial intelligence[4] to judge when the moment is right to capture a shot, saving you the effort of having to actually push the shutter button.

Hands-free photography

The thinking is you set Google Clips up in the living room or the kitchen and it takes care of snapping your kids or your pets in their best light, picking the most photogenic moments through its on-board smarts without you having to be behind the camera.

There’s 16GB of storage on board and you don’t need an internet connection for the camera to work, though it will sync with Google Photos if you ask it to. Measuring 2 inches square, there’s a 12MP lens on board, and it can record video as well as pictures.

It’s part of Google’s wider push into hardware over the last year or so, covering phones, laptops and high-fidelity speakers. Whether Clips has broad enough appeal to make much of an impact remains to be seen, but it’s another in a long line of gadgets with AI on board.

References

  1. ^ Google Clips (www.techradar.com)
  2. ^ Google Store (store.google.com)
  3. ^ as Android Police spotted (www.androidpolice.com)
  4. ^ artificial intelligence (www.techradar.com)
  5. ^ How much did AI control you today? (www.techradar.com)

Discounted: Best Buys

Here are 5 markets that blockchain will transform beyond recognition

Bitcoin[1], and its sibling cryptocurrencies, have continued to capture the imagination, and indeed the headlines, with fortunes being made – and lost[2] – on an ongoing basis as traditional fiat currency is challenged by these new digital assets. All outside of governmental control, no less.

However, while the money being made here is certainly noteworthy, what’s even more critical is the technology behind all this – namely the blockchain[3]. It’s the blockchain that powers each of these cryptocurrencies, and it has the potential to make a far greater impact than the latest ‘ubercoin’.

The blockchain is a distributed digital ledger, which has desirable inherent characteristics that keep it secure, immutable, as well as transparent. Put simply, there’s great potential for this technology to have a disruptive effect[4] across many diverse industries – and here we’ve outlined five such areas of business which could feel a major impact.

1. Investment

Many companies struggle to improve their workflow, and are always chasing greater efficiency, and of course cost savings. Mutual fund giant, Vanguard, known for its cost-efficient mutual funds, plans to use blockchain technology to streamline its processes further.

Poised for deployment in 2018, Vanguard will implement a blockchain approach for the automation of using index fund data[6], which is mission-critical information for its index mutual funds. The firm anticipates that the data will be available without any delay, which will reduce tracking errors, and subsequently improve performance, all at a lower cost.

This is being carried out in partnership with the Center for Research for Security Prices, and Symbiont, a company that works on institutional blockchain implementations.

2.  Cars

Used car buyers continue to be challenged with the likes of fraudulent and false details. For example, in the US, the NHTSA estimates that 450,000 vehicles have their odometers tampered with every year, with the potential for buyers to become victims of this mileage fraud.

Buyers of these used cars typically want to know about the vehicle’s history, with services such as CarFax able to provide reports which include important information such as verification of the mileage, and details of any accidents and ensuing repairs.

However, these type of vehicle histories seem outdated now, as current cars, with their integrated telematics, capture so much more information. This additional info includes everything from dealer service visits, to the fuel economy history of the vehicle, making the decision on buying a used car a far more informed process.

CarVertical[7] plans to be the “world’s first global and decentralized car history registry built on blockchain”. The firm will collect information on each vehicle from several sources, including multiple centralized databases, and then put this into a blockchain to store the details on the vehicle, leveraging the blockchain’s advantages of security and immutability.

3. Credit cards

Financial service companies wish to offer faster transactions at a lower cost. This is perhaps exemplified by the credit card industry. Mastercard is exploring a blockchain database that offers literally instantaneous transactions, meaning that merchants can get paid right away, without waiting the usual several days for the funds to clear.

The company is even filing a US patent for this implementation of blockchain-based technology, and providing tools that will encourage the development of direct transactions between businesses.

Rival credit card company American Express has also partnered with global blockchain expert Ripple and Santander UK for the commercialization of blockchain payments. This integrated blockchain-powered platform – American Express FX International Payments system – is designed to facilitate and streamline cross-border transactions between businesses.

It is estimated that over the next decade, this blockchain technology will store 10% of the world’s GDP[8], which would represent a meteoric rise for a new technology.

4. Supply chain management

Supply chain management is a crucial enterprise activity that involves tracking the movement of goods and services, including the inventory of raw materials and finished goods. Historically, this has been a paper-based system, but certainly the trend is now towards digital software solutions in this area. Companies endeavor to gain more efficiency in this area to increase profits, and more recently this has involved a cloud-based approach.

The blockchain could certainly be poised to disrupt supply chain management. While traditional software has been used to track supplies, the information typically gets contained within a single company’s database. The distributed digital ledger that the blockchain offers would mean that this information is not siloed, and the tracking of goods wouldn’t just be within that company, but along the entire process, from the suppliers to the customers, and all the points between as well.

An example application of this technology is Walmart partnering with IBM’s blockchain division, for the tracking of food products and the enhancement of food safety.

5. Loyalty programs

Many of us have a whole pile of loyalty cards, and in fact an average US household is a member of 29 different loyalty programs. This means multiple logins for multiple online accounts, and further confusion when loyalty members wish to exchange points between partner programs.

Akin to cryptocurrency, the distributed digital ledger holds promise when it comes to loyalty program management. The blockchain allows the relevant data to be securely recorded and stored. Furthermore, it is ideal when applied to multiple partner programs, as it allows each of those programs to have access to the amount of points accrued across the board. Also, the immutable nature of the blockchain is ideal for transactions, including point exchanges between loyalty programs.

Fostering exchanges between programs also encourages full usage of the points folks have earned, as otherwise lower spending members may be unable to accumulate enough points for a reward, and they might end up with unspent ‘orphan points’. That’s less likely to happen in a world where points can be lumped together cumulatively.

References

  1. ^ Bitcoin (www.techradar.com)
  2. ^ with fortunes being made – and lost (www.techradar.com)
  3. ^ blockchain (www.techradar.com)
  4. ^ disruptive effect (www.techradar.com)
  5. ^ Microsoft is making a blockchain that’s fit for business (www.techradar.com)
  6. ^ index fund data (www.investmentnews.com)
  7. ^ CarVertical (www.carvertical.com)
  8. ^ 10% of the world’s GDP (www.enterprisetech.com)
  9. ^ Bitcoin vs distributed ledger vs Ethereum vs blockchain (www.techradar.com)

More Promoted: Items

Apple HomePod pre-orders open today; is it worth $350?

Almost Home(Pod) If you’ve been waiting and waiting for Apple’s entry into the smart home speaker race, today’s the big day to at least pre-order the new device. That’s right, it’s January 26th, and if you get in line today, you’ll likely receive one of the first Apple HomePod speakers by around February 9th.

We were able to play around with one for about an hour to get some early impressions, and so far, so good. First off: It does sound pretty amazing. The HomePod features a central woofer and seven high-frequency drivers, and it seemed like wherever we were in the room, sound quality was very good – and quite loud.

The HomePod’s built-in microphones sniff out your room’s acoustics and set up the sound accordingly, and it does a solid job of it. Speaking of setup, it was a breeze, as you’d likely expect from an Apple device. It also looks pretty good: Stylish but also low-profile, and it comes in two colors – so far.

One music note: Siri will only control Apple Music by voice, not Spotify or Pandora and so on, but you can route those streaming tunes to the HomePod from your iPhone if need be. Siri worked as expected, although we had to ask twice a few times when the music was loud. And of course it works great with HomeKit-capable smart home SB© toys.

So is it perfect? Not quite. Check out our hands-on review and then decide if you want to drop £350 on it. Fixing a hole

Intel just reported solid numbers for their last quarter, but the main thing on investor’s – and everyone else’s – minds is the ongoing problems with the Meltdown and Spectre chip flaws. Intel and OS makers have tried to roll out software patches for the problem with varying degrees of success – and some outright failures – and now Intel says they are working on hardware-based fixes for the problem. However, we won’t likely see the “fixed” chips until later this year.

As scary as the Meltdown and Spectre problems sounds, the folks over at Extreme Tech think the incident could actually give Intel and other CPU makers a boost in the long run as companies – especially those that use a lot of servers – look to quickly upgrade to newer “fixed” CPUs, rather than hold out hope that their now patched-up systems will safely soldier on. In the meantime, we have some links below to check if your PC is updated or still at risk. Take your protein pill

Elon Musk and the SpaceX team fired up the Falcon Heavy earlier this week, and while the engines were only lit for well under a minute, the massive plume the 27 rocket motors created gives you some hint as to how much power is on tap. And good news: The test went well, as in the whole rocket didn’t explode, as Musk said it might. Now, Musk says he plans to launch a Tesla Roadster into orbit around Mars in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned for that. But in the bigger picture of American space travel, there’s news that President Trump wants to kill U.S. funding for the International Space Station by 2025. SpaceX is planning on sending both goods and people to the ISS as a primary NASA contractor, so that may put a dent in their plans.

Or will it? With the Falcon Heavy going operational at last and NASA also spooling up their SLS heavy-lift program, SpaceX could find itself heading for Trump’s new target: A possible new lunar base. Multiple sources report that a draft of future US space exploration priorities includes returning to the moon – maybe permanently – and then moving on to Mars, where Musk has repeatedly said he plans on going anyway – and in a big, big way.

Now, there’s really no way of telling the exact future of NASA, since it’s at the mercy of budgets, the economy and competing visions within each successive administration. But SpaceX is its own animal, and Musk’s vision of humanity becoming an “interplanetary species” with Mars bases, moon bases and maybe other bases even farther out there, is the kind of vision we can get behind. We can only hope NASA gets on board as well.

The ISS is great, but it’s stuck in low earth orbit, and always will be. Is it time to move beyond where we’ve already been? Let us know what you think about defunding the ISS and moving on to the moon and Mars in our YouTube comments section.

We’ve got more news on our Facebook page and YouTube channel, and be sure to tune in to this week’s DT podcasts: Trends with Benefits (general tech shenanigans) on Thursdays, and Between the Streams (movie and TV topics) every Friday.

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