So, admittedly, I’m pretty much the last person to attend a car show. Aside from being a Texan where driving is prerequisite and a stint dating a total gear-head and becoming familiar with Top Gear and that show which name escapes me where a team of auto body folks steal peoples’ classic cars and fix ’em up in secret for them, I am a bonafide pedestrian in my public transit-laden city. That said, I was presented with a pretty cool opportunity to go to the Chicago Auto Show and check out Kia’s lineup of eco-friendly rides.
At first I was thinking that I’d never really heard a car company espouse eco-mindedness in earnest (beyond a marketing afterthought to make $$$), but I went in with an open mind and the result? I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful details and eco-forward technology. In a world where they hybrid car is fast becoming a fixture, these actually blew me away (I wanted to get a Kia Niro, load it up with all my peoples and critters, and go camping IMMEDIATELY). But I’m not going to just wax poetic about the cars. Kia arranged for me to meet their sustainability guru, Steve Kosowski, who is an environmentalist in his personal life and proponent of the electric ride, to answer some of my (and likely your) questions.
Here’s what he had to say:
AP: You spoke a bit at the launch about the recyclable and sustainable nature of much of the interior of certain models. Can you expand on that and touch on the types of interior options for those who don’t want leather?
SK: As an example of Kia’s aim to reduce CO2 in our products, the Soul EV uses interior plastics and seat fabric that originate from sugar and corn-based substrates. This enables a significantly lower CO2 footprint than materials traditionally used to make interior plastics. Kia’s R&D engineers developed these eco materials to improve the CO2 footprint, and improve recyclability. Another example of our eco-ingenuity is the Kia Rio’s 100% biodegradable and non-toxic castor oil-based seat foam material. This material benefits the environment in several ways, including reduced use of petroleum-based materials for the Rio’s interior, and because castor oil comes from plants, it is generated from a completely sustainable source. Also emphasizing the earth-friendly theme, 85% of the Rio’s materials are recyclable at the end of its lifespan.
As a leather alternative, all Kia vehicles except the K900 and Cadenza, offer a cloth seat configuration. The new Kia Niro will offer a cloth fabric in the LX grade. And, as is the case in nearly all automotive leather seating, certain parts of Kia’s leather seat trim are actually not made of leather, but are composed of vinyl and similar materials.
AP: In the launch, you were branded as a “proponent of electric technology,” which leads me to believe you probably have a green bend to your own personal philosophy. What were you doing prior to joining Kia and what do you love most about the eco-friendlier direction in which Kia is going?
SK: I do have a lean-living/eco-oriented philosophy, and am proud to have many eco responsibilities at Kia. Kia has history of producing fuel-efficient vehicles, and efficiency is part of the company’s philosophy as a whole, but what I love the most about Kia’s recent eco-friendly direction – with models such as the Soul EV and Niro – is that the cars are remarkably efficient and yet are engaging and fun-to-drive. The improvements in efficiency have actually helped the dynamics/performance. In terms of the eco-friendlier direction Kia is headed, the company is investing $billions into more efficient/green powertrains and related technologies, so the innovations will continue well into the future. What I also personally like about this is the opportunity to help shape the products and strategies Kia implements.
Prior to Kia I worked for Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi in product planning/research/strategy roles. This helped enable me to learn and stay current on many of the eco-issues facing the automobile industry and society as a whole (CO2/GHG, water, resource management, energy, efficiency, eco-tech, etc.).
AP: Many millennials live in large cities where public transportation is easy to access and inexpensive. What would you say to someone in this situation who is considering buying one of Kia’s eco-friendly options? Is there a tangible cost-benefit?
SK: Kia offers some perfect vehicles for urban living including the Soul and Soul EV. These cars are sized well for maneuverability within a dense urban environment, yet they offer generous interior room, flexible cargo/utility capability, and look really cool too. The Soul EV emits zero emissions, and the Soul (2.0L) gets 27-MPG (Combined) fuel economy. If an efficient, stylish sedan is preferred, the mid-sized Optima hybrid is an excellent choice. The 2016 Optima hybrid achieves 38 MPG (Combined). And later this year a completely redesigned 2017 model year Optima hybrid will be available, offering 42-MPG (Combined) in a more stylish, roomy package. The tangible cost/benefit: A Soul EV costs $600/year to refuel, while a Soul (2.0L) costs $1,800/year to refuel.
AP: What does Kia do to promote sustainability beyond the cars it creates?
SK: Beyond the eco-engineering in our vehicles, much of Kia’s sustainability efforts aim to make the vehicle manufacturing/process as sustainable as possible. Kia has several initiatives oriented to minimizing air pollution, carefully managing water usage, and minimizing hazardous chemicals. Specifically, Kia has been reducing (manufacturing) per-unit emissions and constantly monitoring the toxicity of raw materials, streamlining the work process, recycling and reusing byproducts, and appropriately processing environmental pollutants. Per-unit emissions have continuously declined each year. 2014 per-unit emissions were 4.2% lower than in 2013, and have been reduced 50.5% compared to 2003. To reduce air pollutant emissions, Kia is actively replacing raw materials with those containing fewer amounts of harmful substances, while installing pollutant emissions control facilities, improving the work process, and adopting clean production technologies.
Kia purifies wastewater from its production process before discharging it, and maintains stricter internal standards than the local legal requirements to minimize water pollutant output. Its wastewater treatment systems are repaired, maintained and upgraded to uphold optimal performance levels, while around-the-clock monitoring of effluent concentrations is conducted to prevent environmental risks. In 2014, despite higher vehicle production volumes, Kia’s production site effluent concentration created 21.9% less organic water pollutants (BOD emissions) and 55.6% fewer suspended solids (SS) emissions compared to 2013, resulting in a 12-ton decrease in the total volume of water pollutant emissions. Waste Kia has been striving to raise its waste recycling rate for the systematic control of waste at the source, and to lower its per-unit waste output through process innovation. In 2014, waste generation from producing one vehicle declined by 3.2% (5.3 kg) from 2013 to 164 kg in 2014, representing 29.2% less waste output compared to 2003. Since 2007, the company has maintained its waste recycling rate at higher than 90%, keeping the volume of landfilled waste output at below 1% of the entire waste output. Kia’s Sohari Plant and Hwaseong Plant have maintained their landfill waste output at zero since 2008. The inevitable output of landfill waste and those materials deemed non-recyclable due to geographical challenges are kept at a minimal level and disposed of appropriately, while the company consistently seeks ways in which to improve upon its means of disposal.
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Look, I know what some of my readers are going to say: “OH ASHLEE, pimping a car?” and I’m gonna say right back to ya, “yes.” While I personally don’t have a car for a variety of need/cost/convenience/ecological reasons, that’s not a feasible lifestyle for everyone (and let’s be honest, my Uber uptake in the freezing cold can sometimes rival having my own car anyway). Some people have to have cars for work and life. And if you’re going to have one, I appreciate companies that are forward-thinking enough to focus on the environmental aspects, even when the status quo doesn’t force them to. Kia was incredibly open, forthcoming, and excited with and about their ideas and innovations and that impressed the hell outta me.
* This is a sponsored post, I received compensation to attend the event and for the purpose of this review but my opinions are my own.