The Niro is built alongside European versions of the Optima saloon and Sportswagon at Kia's Hwasung plant in Asan Bay, Korea.
Hwasung is Kia's largest factory, with a production capacity of 600,000 cars a year. It opened in 1989 and manufacturing began in 1991. Hwasung is also home to a 200-acre proving ground with 16 driving courses, opened in 1993, and it houses an employee sports centre, giving the 12,000 workers and their families access to gymnasiums, swimming pools, squash courts and weight-training and community facilities.
In recent years Hwasung has undergone major changes to improve the quality of production processes and the cars leaving the factory gates. The improved quality has been recognised by the American publication, Consumer Reports.
Constant efforts are also being made to minimise the plant's effect on the environment. There have been major initiatives to increase recycling, reduce the amount of pollutants and waste in the production process, lower greenhouse gas emissions and cut air pollution through more eco-friendly production systems. Energy-saving measures have also been introduced, and Hwasung has sent no waste to landfill since 2008.
Improved paint facilities have been installed and every aspect of vehicle production has been scrutinised to ensure the plant uses less energy. Water and power consumption, dust, CO2, contaminants and the amount of waste per vehicle have all been reduced.
Kia has made reducing the amount of raw materials being fed into the production process a major priority in each of its production facilities. The last few years have seen significant progress in reducing waste, increasing recycling and developing cleaner production processes.
The overall waste generated by Hwasung is under constant review and a number of programmes have seen dramatic improvements. Recycling has increased and now stands at well over 90 per cent. Exhaust pollutants from Hwasung – dust, NOx and SO2 – have also decreased dramatically.
New technology is playing a significant part in environmental improvement. Typical cast melting furnaces produce large amounts of dust, and contained within this is a high proportion of zinc. The captured dust is treated and the zinc extracted before being re-used within the production process.
Pump invertors have been fitted to coolant and collectant pumps to control the rpm according to load. This has led to energy savings and a reduction in CO2 equivalent to around 4,000 tons per year.
Another simple energy-saving process has been implemented within Hwasung’s huge and complex air conditioning systems. A fixed amount of heat was supplied to some areas of the plant, regardless of the outside temperature. Using smart control units, the fans now run to supply heat only where and when needed.
More technology is being employed in the machining shops where gearboxes are produced. Compressed air is used as a coolant when machining intricate gearbox internals, rather than cutting oil, helping to reduce oil use to less than half of one per cent.
Hwasung is also instrumental in the development of end-of-life treatment technologies to reduce the environmental and social impact of Kia’s. It is home to Kia's major Automobile Resource Regeneration centre, which not only dismantles cars once they are no longer serviceable, but is also helping to devise new ways in which Kia’s are designed and assembled, as well as with the choice of materials used in manufacturing.
Modern cars contain explosive materials to trigger their airbags in an accident and large quantities of environmentally hostile solids and liquids, which must all be recycled or disposed of safely. Metal components such as the car body, engine and gearbox are relatively easy to recycle, as is the battery and exhaust catalyst, but plastics and rubbers present a greater challenge. Now only 5 per cent of a scrapped car is incinerated without energy recovery.
Kia has developed an eight-stage dismantling process at Hwasung's ARR centre to recoup as many materials as possible for re-use while ensuring the few components which cannot be recycled are disposed of with the minimum environmental impact. Once the car to be scrapped has been registered it is taken into an explosives chamber where its airbags are triggered in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. The car is then pre-treated for scrappage before all fluids are removed. The exterior, interior and powertrain components are systematically removed in sequence and finally the remnants of the car are crushed in a press.
The ARR centre works on a conveyor system, just like when cars are being made, so that large numbers can be dismantled and recycled in a short time span.
The green landscape around Kia facilities is an important part of each plant make-up. One ongoing programme is based on a number of ecology gardens which are filled with trees and plants resistant and also sensitive to environmental changes in air pollution. This has the added benefits of providing a more comfortable environment for the staff and local population and offsetting some of the CO2 output from the facility.
These gardens are continually monitored since they act as real-world indicators of air quality. Each site is broadening the green patches in and around its compound and constantly monitors air pollution in neighbouring communities. A monthly task for each facility is a stream clean-up programme, where Kia cleans and maintains local, natural water courses. This is not only to monitor cleanliness but also to keep them maintained for local communities to enjoy.
The overall effect of the many green initiatives has resulted in Hwasung being officially recognised as an eco-friendly work site by the Korean Ministry of the Environment.