KIA Ray Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (CONCEPT)

Written By: Andrew H.

The Kia Ray PHEV Concept | A Case Study of Techno-Ecology

                                                                Kia ray PHEV concept

After the Industrial Revolution, technology and ecology split like Cain and Abel. Michigan white pine forests vanished. Coal smog blanketed Pittsburgh like spent exhaust gases from Hades. African ivory sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic and yet ships kept coming for more. In that era, the resources of the earth seemed as incalculable as the stars, as if rivers and mountains would grow back like shark teeth.

Today, with a booming global population of seven billion and a worldwide wealth gap to match, technology and ecology must reunite. Bionomics requires that “going green” goes high-tech. In a 100,700-square-foot design studio in Irvine, California, nestled partway between Los Angeles and San Diego, one car company intends to do just that. That company comes from a country embroiled in the same challenge. It is Kia, the Midas automaker from South Korea. Its figurehead automobile: the Ray.

The Ray concept car was first unveiled at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show. Behind the four-door sedan on its Lazy Susan pedestal was a golden honeycomb background, homage to Mother Nature and to the Ray's hexagon interior design motif. Unlike many concept cars, the Ray looks as if it could pass a state safety inspection, sans windshield wipers and rearview mirrors. Two motion sensors supplant the rearview mirrors, and concept cars rarely come with windshield wipers.

Aerodynamics reigns king. The Ray’s raked roofline, long tail and sculpted headlamps contribute to a drag coefficient of 0.25. A rear spoiler automatically deploys at highway speeds for extra downforce. Even though the two rear doors are small, they pivot from the stern, allowing extra room for ingress and egress. The black roof of the car is “cool-glazing” solar glass, composed of hexagonal solar cells that feed electrons to the lighting and climate control systems to keep the car cool.

KIA RAY PHEV CONCEPT (Click on Images to Enlarge)

“Being green doesn’t have to be an obvious statement anymore,” said Peter Schreyer, Chief Design Officer for the Kia Motors Corporation. “It is important to imagine early in the design process what people will want in the future from a green perspective because people want to reduce their carbon footprint without driving carbon copies.” In other words, if the international water crisis won’t persuade people to change their habits, then maybe an eye-catching car can.

The Kia Ray does not excommunicate gasoline. Like the Chevrolet Volt, it has a plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain, which begs the question: If the Kia Ray is the car of the future, then why does it still drink gasoline?

Bill Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president for Corporate Strategic Planning, has the answer. “All of the energy concentrated in one gallon of gasoline is enough to charge an iPhone once a day for almost 20 years,” he says.

Building a battery large enough to drive the 500 miles from Irvine to the Grand Canyon would require a crane to lift it. Gasoline is cheap, ubiquitous and concentrated. So the Kia Ray partners a lithium-polymer battery with a 153-horsepower, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a 78-kWh electric motor. On a single electric charge, the Ray can drive for 50 miles. Once the flywheel starts to spin, the sedan has a top speed of 109 mph. On a full tank, the Ray can cruise for 746 miles. When used in plug-in HEV mode, the Ray boasts a potential fuel economy of 202.3 mpg.

Kia has no official scheme to put the Ray into production, but the formal announcement is a moot point. With the Volkswagen XL1, the Cadillac ELR, the Tesla Model S, and now the Kia Ray, the world has a taste of the future. Gasoline could cost $10 a gallon, yet driving across the state could cost less than dinner-for-two at Applebee’s. Adoption in some form, regardless of the marque, is inevitable.

The Ray’s dedication to energy conservation does not end at the exhaust pipe. Inside, the Ray is all white, off-white and white-dotted to help “create a sense of purity” and “keep the temperature down and reduce the use of air conditioner energy.” The interior also showcases the Infinity Audio GreenEdge stereo system. Through devious electrical magic, the audio system reduces idle power consumption by 50 percent and contributes to significant savings in weight.

Much of the Ray’s interior materials are recyclable or reusable. Others, like the genuine wool felt, come direct from Mother Nature. Honeycomb mesh coats the door inserts and seats, reducing curb weight and increasing sex appeal. The floor mats are incorporated into the floor, eliminating redundant carpeting. These thoughtful touches may be small news in a prototype concept car, but when applied to a mass-production assembly line, the conservation across the life of the vehicle could be enormous.

And that is the hydra of the environmental movement. No engineering legerdemain – not even a sleek PHEV sedan that achieves 202 mpg – can substitute for mass adoption. Scientific environmentalism is dependent on the law of averages, volume margins, and Main Street appeal. If the Kia Ray is to make good, then it must be bought.