Kia Motors is hardly shy, when tackling ‘other’ world markets
Admitting that his fascination for Kia, and to a slightly lesser extent its parent Hyundai, is both flexible and curious, Iain Robertson was more than marginally surprised that the South Korean carmaker is developing a range of military vehicles.
Living as we do in Blighty, where most of the vehicles currently used by our Armed Forces tend to be long-serving Land Rovers, Alvis Stalwarts and Bedford trucks, it is quite easy to ignore that, as members of the EU, we have also had access to most of the European military transport scene. As a result, Daf, Volvo and Iveco are some of the brands with which the services have become familiar in recent years. Yet, products from the Far East, which are available to several nations, have seldom been offered here.
Perhaps it is the impending separation from the EU that has led Kia into making public its developments in the specialist vehicles arena. Intriguingly, Kia has revealed its plans for the development of a new standard platform for next-generation military vehicles, thus adding strength to the company’s capabilities in future military projects. While certainly not presuming that, once free of the EU, an independent Great Britain might consider allying itself to South Korea’s manufacturing prowess and capabilities (a matter that is significantly above my pay grade!), apart from a growing taste for kimchi, I am sure that other products from that nation might find eminently satisfied homes here.
Kia Motors plans to start manufacturing prototypes of mid-sized standard vehicles within what remains of this year and subject them to the test evaluations by the Korean Government in 2021. The company’s goal is military deployment from 2024, following standardisation and initial production tests.
The mid-sized standard vehicle development project is the result of joint investment by the Korean military and Kia Motors. The large-scale programme will see the replacement of 2.5-tonne and 5.0-tonne military standard vehicles currently in operation, while also developing new 5.0-tonne bullet- and armament-proof vehicles. The standard vehicles will be equipped with a range of the latest commercial technologies, including high-torque 7.0-litre diesel engines and automatic transmission systems, ABS and Anti-Spin Regulator (ASR), Rear Parking Assist, Around View Monitor systems, satellite navigation and hot wire seats (whatever they might be).
Kia’s modular approach to developing new vehicles on the platform will enable the development of other derivatives in the future, such as those vehicles equipped with a range of specific weapons systems, as well as those designed with more specialised specifications and advanced technologies.
The company has developed a conceptual brief for its new military All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and plans to introduce a prototype at some point early in the New Year. The developed ATVs will not only be deployed for military purposes, but will also be used in a variety of other fields, such as industrial and leisure sectors, drawing on the bare chassis from the robust Kia Mohave SUV (a model not sold in the UK, as yet). Kia will continue to grow its reputation as an SUV brand by applying technology and know-how from military vehicle developments, in order to improve the durability of its road-going SUVs, which suggests that there exists method in their automotive excitement.
To contribute to the development of the military’s future combat systems, Kia is also carrying out advanced R&D actively, by combining the latest automotive technology with that normally the preserve of military vehicles. The company is developing autonomous driving technology for military vehicles, which could assist with delivering supplies, or removing the vulnerable humans from areas of conflict. However, Kia is also exploring the potential for hydrogen fuel cell technology across diverse military applications, including fuel cell vehicles and emergency power generators, fields in which Hyundai is already playing both a developmental and an active role. Fuel cell technology is considered suitable for future military vehicles, because it can supply large amounts of electricity in combat, or distress environments, at the right time and in the right location.
Kia Motors has produced a range of vehicles for the Korean and overseas military, including 0.25-, 1.25-, 2.5- and 5.0-tonne vehicles. In fact, Kia has the experience of having supplied nine model types and no less than 100 derivatives, while having produced a total of 140,000 military vehicles thus far. The company has produced the BV206 all-terrain tracked carrier, while, in 2001, it developed a 15.0-tonne rescue vehicle and heavy equipment transport tractor, thereby establishing a full line-up production system for military vehicles that range from small to large segments.
Kia has also created Korea’s first multipurpose tactical vehicle; a light accessible truck replacing existing 0.25-tonne and 1.25-tonne vehicles. The vehicle was equipped with the robust engine, automatic transmission and braking system from the aforementioned Kia Mohave, while also adopting the latest commercial technologies and military specific equipment standards, including an electronically managed four-wheel drive system.
Kia’s strengths stem from its experience of developing vehicles across multiple segments and its future is founded on a number of business pillars, including the development of logistics and leisure-based Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBVs). At the start of 2020, Kia announced its ‘Plan S’ mid-to-long-term strategy, encompassing a range of diversified business activities, including the development of PBVs. Kia’s plans for PBV developments are based on the small-volume production of specialist vehicles that possess excellent body durability, similar to the ways in which military vehicles are developed. Kia Motors’ expertise in producing military vehicles to serve specific roles also provides a competitive edge in the PBV business.
Much as the US-built ‘Humvee’, or Hummer, became the ‘vehicle of choice’ in Middle Eastern war zones, Kia could easily replace Toyota in the terrorist segment (!). Regardless, with a sound reputation for dependability, Kia has already escalated the retail ladder and targeting military could easily be the next one.