Home » Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines Kia Having The Guts To Make A Very Different Small Pickup

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines Kia Having The Guts To Make A Very Different Small Pickup

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What makes this such a spectacular website? Much of it comes down to the staffers commitment to looking at things from a different perspective. Any site can regurgitate a press release from the manufacturer of a new car; the Autopian offers deeper dives and more extensive nerd-level examinations of the design and engineering details. Another edict set by the great Jason Torchinsky: Do not be afraid to look at the absurd. This attitude came to mind a few weeks back when we heard that the company sometimes referred to as KN Motors was going to release a pickup truck. Upon hearing this news, the writers threw out some odd scenarios, one of which I couldn’t help but run with. Here’s how it went.

Small Trucks Are Big Hits

Little pickups are a hot market segment right now; the Ford Maverick is selling well, RAM has shown teasers of a small pickup, and there’s an upcoming Toyota small truck (allegedly called the Stout). So it makes sense for Kia to jump in on the fun.

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Stellantis, Ford

Actually, Kia has already been there in some respects; the brand has over forty years of experience in making small-to-mid sized pickups, but they aren’t what you would expect. The oddly-named Kia Bongo truck has been produced since 1980; it’s a a small pickup in the cabover layout that’s always been quite popular in Asia:

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It’s even available as a four door “double cab” (these images are a few years old, but trust me, the new ones are essentially the same):

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In back there’s a very industrial bed (though, naturally, different rear boxes are available):

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beforward (car for sale)

Jokingly, the staff asked if this would indeed be the basis for their upcoming new mid-sized truck. Of course it’s expected that the real midsize truck Kia will release is going to be quite conventional; something like a bigger Hyundai Santa Cruz, since Kia and Hyundai fall under the same corporate umbrella (It would be cool if the short-lived Kia Borrego mid sized SUV came back with the rear chopped off, but that’s not likely).

More than likely, a small Kia pickup would be a reasonably competitive truck that would fit right in line to be cross shopped with the Maverick and other similar offerings that appear on the pages of Consumer Reports. It’ll be something non-enthusiasts put on a list of three trucks to look at as they head out on a Saturday morning to showrooms see who will give them the best deal. That’s nice; it’s also really boring. What if I want something different in my little pickup? Can at least one manufacturer offer something that is a bit outside the box? (Though I realize unibody pickups are still new and novel; still, let’s switch some things up even further!).

Putting The Cab Out Front

Let’s say there’s an alternate reality where, as a designer, Kia is asking you to make the Bongo into a semi-valid small-to-mid sized truck entry in the U.S. market. Maybe they want to test the waters with the whole cabover thing with a limited investment before committing to a totally clean sheet of paper vehicle. This doesn’t seem like an easy task.

The Bongo was never a machine that made sense for North America, particularly in that it’s a bit too small to act as a commercial vehicle and rather unsuited to passenger use. Combine that with the fact that the even the largest available motors aren’t powerful enough to hold 70 up a grade, and it just doesn’t work stateside.

With the engine under the passenger compartment, one is reminded of the situation when Nissan imported its cabover van (creatively called the “Nissan Van”). With a larger engine than other markets offered to meet American tastes, unforeseen issues with heat buildup could cause fires and resulted in several recalls. When these recalls failed to fix the problems, Nissan purchased the vans back and crushed them.

1987 1990 Nissan Van Us Front

“Our” Bongo pickup would not have these issues since it would be an EV; Kia already offers an electric version of this cabover in Korea. Here it is complete with its old-school telescopic radio antenna (you laugh, but I swear my old power antenna cars picked up stations further out of town than any shark fin car I’ve owned):

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The cabover layout is pretty ideal for an EV; the whole three-box layout of a standard pickup that you’d see here in the U.S. was dictated by the old internal combustion engine and cooling system, anyway. Also, a cabover as an off road machine is also something the world needs a bit more of. There are plenty of military, commercial, and even competition cabover trucks in use out there, but there’s a lack of smaller consumer offerings.

Big Trucks
Earthcruiser, Acela Monterra

A few years back, Jeep showed the Mighty FC concept to world. Inspired by the old FC “Forward Control” cabovers, the show truck was impressively different. Unfortunately, the concept was over twice the size of its tiny namesake 1950s truck, but nonetheless a Moab-capable overlander. Jeep didn’t pursue the idea, and if had been a bit smaller, I wish they had.


To me, the FC concept missed the whole point of the original one, where you got a tremendous amount of cargo and people space in a subcompact vehicle. [Editor’s Note: One thing people forget is that, while the FC is short, it’s very tall and very wide, especially for its era. -DT]. 

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Bring A Trailer (truck for sale)

Kia Dares To Switch It Up

Here’s where Kia could step in. The length of the Bongo is surprisingly close to that of the Ford Maverick, though it has a significantly narrower width. The big difference, and the true party trick of the cabover, is that removing the nose that you’d normally find ahead of a windshield expands the cargo bed tremendously; the Maverick’s 54 inch long bed pales in comparison to the 86 inch length of the Bongo. Here’s a side-by-side comparison with the existing overseas market Bongo:

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Kia, Ford

So the little Kia would provide large full-sized truck sized cargo capacity in a much smaller package. For “our” U.S. Bongo we’ll give it a longer wheelbase (push the rear wheels closer to the back) and pump up the track under flared fenders and side lower body trim that widens the whole truck; I’ve even given it a staggered track that almost makes it look like a little dualie. I’ve been to Tokyo and Taipai, so I get why the original truck is so narrow, but this is ‘Murica. Here’s the original again:

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and our proposed US model off roader:


A stylized “push” bar up front updates the old body, while black painted trim around the side windows gives the impression of larger glass area. Snarky little devil, ain’t it?


What’s A “Brunk”?

In back, the industrial-looking bed is gone, replaced by a more stylized and cohesive looking rear cargo compartment. The cabover doesn’t have the old engine compartment area to turn into a “frunk,” but the Bongo has a trick up its sleeve. We could offer covered cargo space below the pickup bed in back- a “brunk” or under-bed-trunk.

The Honda Ridgeline has offered this kind of covered trunk, but in that truck the access door is the floor of the bed so good luck getting to it if the bed is full of cargo. The U.S. Bongo’s cargo compartment is reached by folding down a door below that tailgate, and the floor of the space could slide out like a drawer for easier access to items deep in. A roof rack gives even more cargo carrying capacity, and the tall seating means there is space under the rear seat for storage as well. I mean, the bed could even have a dump feature if we really wanted to set this thing apart.

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The spare tire is under the side of the truck; an optional rear tire hanger (or cargo space tire carrier) would allow room for additional range extending batteries with the ‘distance package’.

Crash Cage In Plain Sight

The interior of the stock Bongo is understandably a basic, workmanlike cabin:

Bongo Interior

For “our” U.S. market model we’ll keep the inside rather austere and old-school but replace the switch and gauge panel section with touch screens, as well as a pod for the “gear shift” knob and 4WD controls.

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Ah, but what about safety, or the lack thereof? I mean, to have the crumple zone of a frontal impact occupied by your legs seems like a bad idea. For the U.S. model, I’ve added a steel structure behind the “push bar”; the support beams go at an angle through the cabin but they’re covered up with a design that looks like it belongs. In this case, the bars are even partially exposed but covered as ‘hand grips’ in a look similar to what you might find on the console of Porsche Cayenne.

Plus, there’s a very prominent warning on the sun visor; this should be enough for legal, right? Right?

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Could Americans Play With Bongos?

Sure, it’s dated looking inside and out, but with the cartoonish updates it’s almost like the Mercedes G-Wagen where they kept the basic look of the 1979 truck (which even wasn’t really that modern looking when introduced). Love it or hate it, there wouldn’t be anything on the market quite like it. You’d absolutely get a cult following for this strange thing (bongoplayas.org or something); I’d love to see a bunch of these funny looking trucks doing a club off road event. I’ve purposely stayed away from van variants, but it’s certainly possible. Yes, Mercedes Streeter, you could in fact remove the bed and add a camper with a sleeper extending over the passenger compartment; I believe that it’s already been done.


Certainly, this whole Bongo is really just a Slack joke taken too far (by me, again), but it did remind us that the cabover is something that should happen, and concepts surely exist within many manufacturers as we speak. However, the simple fact is that these concepts don’t exist yet while the Bongo is just sitting there right now, waiting for us to screw with it and test the formula quickly to see if it’s worth making a more modern equivalent.

Can’t we get some real product options in this expanding sector? There’s an ass for every seat, and I’m sure that posteriors for retro cabovers abound.


Kia Is Reportedly Working On A Midsize Pickup Truck With Some Really Weird Heritage – The Autopian

Imaginary David Tracy Ditches His BMW i3 LA Commuter For A 1985 Jeep FC That Never Existed – The Autopian


Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines What A Modern Nissan ‘Hardbody’ Truck Would Look Like And It’s Quite Good – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines The Perfect Little Escape Pod-Car For Your Big Truck – The Autopian

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10 months ago

Sadly, the only thing I’ve read lately about a semi-near-future Kia EV pickup is something based on the Telluride, so a big thing about $60K+ or so. Not for me.

But to be fair to them, how many folks would actually buy a very small weird-looking cabover EV? Other than me I mean.

The only vehicle that I currently have a deposit on is this: https://www.telotrucks.com …and I specified that I was interested in a basic/work version, not a pricey, fancy-pants lifestyle one.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

Actually having a safety variant upfront and the smoothness of aesn EV motor fixes the issues that I have with the COE, and I always liked the look.
But I need to nominate The Bishop for COTD. THE ICE Bongo had a tendency to heat up which lead to fires. We don’t have to worry about that because it is an EV. REALLY? NO WORRY ABOUT FIRES IN AN EV?
Things that make you say hmmmmm.

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