Kia Motors America worked with engineers at HATCI and in Namyang to make the new Sedona minivan more competitive in the US market
With the withdrawal of Ford and Nissan from the North American midsize multipurpose vehicle (MPV) market, Kia Motors America (KMA) has sensed an opportunity to take a strong position in the sector, which accounts for around 300,000 vehicles per year in the USA. Kia’s latest offering is the Korean-built 2015 Sedona.
It is the final model to be replaced under chief design officer, Peter Schreyer, and as such, completes the design-led transformation of the brand. But as much care and attention has gone into the technical development of the all-new Sedona as has been paid to its styling. North America will be a primary market for the flexible, seven- or eight-seat minivan and KMA has worked closely with the local HATCI (Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center Inc) office in Irvine, California, and the main technical center in Namyang, Korea, to tailor the car for US roads.
As KMA’s product development quality manager, Hight Flexman is central to this process. The Irvine-based former Jaguar engineer describes his role as “expressing the voice of the North American customer back to Korea, to get the changes made”.
Flexman’s team first became involved with the Sedona when it provided initial feedback on exterior and interior clay models back in 2012. The first prototype to reach the USA came in summer 2013 in the form of an ‘F-level’, handbuilt, experimental car.
“At this stage we look at the basic concept of the car to see what has changed from the clay model,” says Flexman. “We then do some initial driveability [assessment]on the car, looking at the engine and transmission calibration, and look at the performance of the vehicle. We try to see how it’s going to be when it gets up to production weight, when the panels all fit, and the squeaks and rattles go away. We also start working with our counterparts at HATCI on the basic path we’d like to follow for the suspension and steering on the vehicle, and do some early tuning.”
Flexman explains that much of this early work is done on the road, rather than at Hyundai-Kia’s extensive California Proving Ground in the Mojave desert.
“Even though they’re all handbuilt, we’ve never had a failure or breakdown on an early prototype vehicle,” he says. “The proving ground isn’t the best location for suspension tuning because all of the roads are really smooth it’s more suitable for durability, government testing, and the like. We love to get ours out onto the roads that people will be driving on we can find some good roads with broken pavements, heave, expansion joints, brushed concrete and coarse asphalt, those types of things, all very near to the technical center [in Irvine]. If we talk to HATCI about what we think needs to be changed, we can go right back to the tech center and start making modifications. Most of our tuning work’s done on public roads.”
Flexman’s work is also supported by the HATCI powertrain office in nearby Chino, California.
The initial prototype Sedona remained with KMA for around four months before the first of the P1-level prototypes arrived. These verification prototypes had a greater count of production-specification parts and a quieter structure, which enabled Flexman’s team to ramp up the tuning and look more closely at any NVH issues, such as wind noise. The latter can be done with the camouflage stripped off in the privacy of CPG.
Some of the early P1s were also taken north for cold-weather testing. Flexman’s team favors International Falls in Minnesota, the coldest spot in the USA, for electrical testing and climate control work. “While there, we typically do some traction and braking tests on the frozen Rainy Lake,” he adds. “We do high-altitude testing in Colorado Pikes Peak or Mt Evans and brake testing there too, or in the hot-weather areas like Mt Washington in Nevada.”
For the Sedona program, a cold-weather team also went to Colorado, where a P1 was left behind for a durability test cycle contracted to Roush on behalf of HATCI’s NAQC (North American Quality Center). This was in addition to the fleets of P1 and P2 prototypes that went to CPG for durability runs as normal.
The P2s had arrived by the time Flexman and his colleagues went to Death Valley in summer 2014 for hot-weather testing. These prototypes were also used to fine-tune the suspension, steering and NVH. Some issues with the seat mechanisms remained a concern for KMA even at this late juncture, but Flexman reports that all was resolved before the Sedona went into production in Korea on August 11, 2014.
The final tests before production were done by Kia’s CPE (Consumer Product Evaluation) group in conjunction with the respected market research agency, J D Power. Cars were given to existing and potential customers for 4-8 weeks to seek their feedback ahead of the US market launch in October 2014.
For more on Hyundai-Kia’s California Proving Ground, see the September 2014 issue of Automotive Testing Technology International.