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Cars and creativity

Automakers experiment with new ideas to enhance driver comfort and convenience


As auto technologies continually evolve, auto companies are now competing not just for speed and fuel efficiency but also for enhanced driving emotions.

Kia Motors’ luxury sedan K9 was developed to vie directly with European premium brands BMW and Mercedes-Benz as well as its sister company Hyundai Motor’s Genesis and Equus.

The upscale model of the carmaker’s flagship K series, which was released in May, offers rear-wheel drive with 300-plus horsepower and fuel efficiency of more than 10 kilometers per liter.

What makes the K9 more special and luxurious, Kia officials said, are diverse features aimed at helping drivers interact with the car.

The K9, or Kia Quoris for export markets, comes with orange mood-lights all around the cabin for a relaxing riding experience. The door courtesy lamp is also moveable ― a first of its kind in the auto industry. 
The orange courtesy lamp of Kia Motors’ K9
The orange courtesy lamp of Kia Motors’ K9

Another first is the haptic remote control attached on the steering wheel to operate the in-car infotainment system.

Sixty proverbs, such as “A true friend doubles your happiness and halves sadness” or “Your dream comes true when you continue to dream,” are displayed on the dashboard.

“People like the BMW or Mercedes-Benz not just because of their high performance but because of the luxury feeling that the owners only can feel behind the wheel,” said a Kia spokesperson.

“The K9 is designed to appeal to the very demands of high-end customers.”

German carmaker BMW recently introduced an electric bike as a complement to the new BMW i3 electric car that is slated for commercial release in 2013.

The bike, made to fit perfectly in the car trunk, allows car owners to navigate crowded downtown areas while leaving their cars in the parking lot.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class allows drivers to share the infotainment system screen with passengers.

Drivers can get directions from the automotive navigation system on one part of the screen, while passengers can use the entertainment service on the remaining part simultaneously.

Some carmakers are coming up with even more creative ideas.

Sweden’s Volvo pledges to save pedestrian lives with the world’s first external airbag.

Its new V40 wagon, which is also scheduled to be introduced to the Korean market next year, is equipped with pedestrian detection technology, including the new airbag system, to prevent collisions.

If sensors detect a car-pedestrian impact, a U-shaped airbag emerges from the hood to form a cushion around the windshield of the car.
The external airbag of Volvo V40 wagon
The external airbag of Volvo V40 wagon

The in-car alcolock system of Volvo vehicles
The in-car alcolock system of Volvo vehicles

Volvo is also the first manufacturer of a fully integrated in-car alcolock system called “Alcoguard.”

The wireless unit analyzes the driver’s breath and if the blood-alcohol limit is exceeded, the engine simply does not start. The system has yet to be introduced to Volvo vehicles in the Korean market.

Italian auto giant Fiat, which plans to reenter the Korean market possibly in January next year, will be offering the 500L, the new and bigger version of its flagship 500 compact, with an espresso coffee machine.

The “Coffee Experience” kit, created in collaboration with Italian coffee company Lavazza, consists of the espresso maker, coffee cups and a spoon holder. 
Fiat 500L with an espresso coffee set
Fiat 500L with an espresso coffee set

Though some critics raise concerns that the machine could be a driver distraction, Fiat plans to launch the model first in Italy next year.

“Carmakers are making experiments in creative ways to add uniqueness to their cars. But it has yet to be seen how those ideas translate into actual car sales,” said the Kia official.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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