DETROIT – Let us praise the box.

Kia Motors America Inc. did just that in unveiling its KV7, a boxy concept van, at the North American International Auto Show here.

“It’s a van, not a minivan,” Tom Loveless, KMA vice president-sales, says, harking back to the vans of the 1980s, vehicles that often were customized and piloted by surfers and assorted members of the “in” crowd.

“Vans were cool,” he says of that era. “You wanted to be friends with guys with vans. They were billboards of individuality.”

As far as their design, they looked like shoeboxes on wheels. They still do, at least the standard commercial vans of today do. Deliverymen and plumbers tend to drive those.

But with the KV7, Kia wants to spur what Loveless calls an “inter-van-tion” for the socially active. Why else would a vehicle have a mini-lounge area with swivel seats?

KV7 designers say they were inspired by the box but didn’t want to literally replicate one. That’s why the vehicle has a hood and even some curves, such as wraparound headlights and bends where rear-quarter panels meet the back.

But otherwise, the stylists were thinking inside the box.

“A van is a box, so why try to hide it?” says Peter Schreyer, Kia Motors Corp.’s chief design officer, noting that many minivan designers try to do just that with slanting lines and such. “Our mission was to take back the van.”

Adds KMA’s chief designer Tom Kearns: “To me, it’s celebrating the box.”

But Kia is ambiguous about whether the KV7 will make the big leap from concept to production vehicle.

Kia has a good record for converting concepts into real vehicles, notes a KMA spokesman. But Loveless is non-committal.

“This is a concept van, and I’ve got ’11 Sedonas I’m selling right now,” he says, referring to Kia’s minivan. “And next on my hit list are existing models that haven’t been replaced in a while.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com