Kia PBV concepts, image courtesy of Kia

Kia Charts Its Course To The EV Future

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There is a great deal of interest in who will be King Of The Mountain in the world of electric cars. Tesla and BYD are trading the lead back and forth every quarter, and there are at least a dozen Chinese companies which intend to challenge for the lead. US auto manufacturers seem to be backpedaling furiously on their EV goals. Yet despite all the smoke and noise, the Hyundai Motor Group, with its Hyundai and Kia brands, is quietly but deliberately moving forward in a calm, measured fashion.

“While the long-term EV demand for 2030 is expected to remain unchanged, the pace of demand growth may prove uneven in the near term. Factors such as a weaker global economic growth, reduction of EV subsidies, and slower adaption of charging infrastructure might affect EV demand,” Kia said this week. Specifically, it plans to expand its hybrid range from six to nine models by 2028.

The other day, we detailed some of the news from Hyundai, which is seeing a surge in EV sales while others are running for the exits. The company has built a robotaxi based on its Ioniq 5 that actually passed a driving test and was awarded a driver’s license! It also is about to kick off a dedicated racing series for electric cars based on the eN1, a purpose-built race car also based on the Ioniq 5.

Kia Updates Its EV Plans

Kia and Hyundai are both part of the HMG empire but chart their own course, although they share the same EV platform, the highly regarded E-GMP. This week, as part of an Investors Day event, Kia reconfirmed its commitment to electric cars while suggesting its growth projections for them may have been tempered somewhat by recent trends.

“Following our successful brand relaunch in 2021, Kia is enhancing its global business strategy to further the establishment of an innovative EV line-up and accelerate the company’s transition to a sustainable mobility solutions provider,” said Kia CEO Ho Sung Song. “By responding effectively to changes in the mobility market and efficiently implementing mid to long term strategies, Kia is strengthening its brand commitment to the well being of customers, communities, the global society, and the environment.”

What’s behind all that flowery language? Kia says by 2030, it plans to have 15 battery-electric models in its lineup with combined annual sales of 1.6 million units. In all, it expects to sell a total of 4.3 million cars, including conventional cars, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery powered models. But the company is also pursuing a somewhat different strategy than other car companies. It has an entire subset of vehicles it calls PBVs, which generically means “purpose-built vehicles” like robotaxis but also includes other non-private passenger car uses such as delivery vehicles. Hyundai now calls them “platform beyond vehicles,” such as the PV5 that was introduced at CES 2024 in Las Vegas in January.

Kia Purpose-Built Vehicles

The “PBV platform offers users a blank canvas to redefine how space and mobility can adapt to their needs by providing exceptional flexibility through radical modularity,” Kia says, and adds that it is “determined to overcome all existing restrictive and one-dimensional industry product line-up offerings.” We’re not sure what that means exactly, but it sounds impressive. A few years ago, Hyundai and Kia cozied up to Canoo, which is very much interested in the purpose-built vehicles segment, but the synergy between the companies never gelled and they went their separate ways.

Kia says its PBVs will be characterized by “Easy Swap” technology, meaning the vehicle chassis can be used in combination with interchangeable upper bodies. These are connected to the base vehicle using a hybrid electromagnetic and mechanical coupling technology, “turning the PBV into a taxi during the day, to a delivery van at night, and a personal recreational vehicle on weekends.” Sounds vaguely reminiscent of the Nissan Pulsar, which debuted in 1978 with a removable rear section that allowed it to transition between a notchback coupe and a small station wagon in a matter of minutes.

Modular design is enhanced by a body structure assembly called “Dynamic Hybrid” that uses no welds. This results in the length of the moving elements to be flexibly adjusted depending on the vehicle’s intended use. “Comprised of high strength tubular steel and engineered polymers, typical parts are reduced by 55 per cent with no loss in rigidity,” Kia says. The Dynamic Hybrid technology is supplied as a standardized kit, enabling a Kia PV5 to be converted quickly and easily in the field.

Kia claims the platform will feature large doors with a pillar-less opening, an extended wheelbase for a comparatively large, flat interior, and a retractable steering wheel for an “office-like environment” in the cockpit. Operation is said to be simple and intuitive, and the vehicle is designed to be robust and solid. Pretty amazing stuff, if true, although we have some concerns about side impact protection. Production is scheduled to be at a factory in South Korea with an annual capacity of 150,000 vehicles. A second factory is also in the planning stage, if there is sufficient demand to justify building it.

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A Phased Business Plan For Kia PBVs

According to Kia, the PBV roll out will be divided into three phases. The first phase will see the launch of the Kia PV5 in 2025. “Enhanced data connectivity between vehicles and external data such as route or delivery information will enable convenient operation of multiple vehicles as a software-defined fleet,” Kia says. The PV5 will initially launch as either a basic high roof van or as a chassis cab version that will accept a variety of specialized cargo or passenger modules. It could be an ambulance, for instance, or a shuttle for hotels and airports. A robotaxi model is also planned for a later date. Kia expects the PBV models will account for about 15% of its EV sales by 2030.

During the Investors Day event, Kia mentioned an EV2 for the first time. The small electric car is one of the six new electric models that Kia plans by 2026. The others are the EV5, the EV4 and EV3, which have already been presented as studies, and two region-specific electric models, including the Carens EV for the Indian market. The EV2, EV4, and EV5 models will be offered “in major markets, including the US, Europe, and South Korea,” the company said.

In addition to expanding the model range, the company also mentions it will “improve battery performance and secure cost competitiveness” and is “pushing a charging infrastructure expansion strategy around the globe.”

The Takeaway

There is a lot of noise surrounding the world of electric cars at the moment. In contract to many other companies that are predicting an astonishing sales increase and others that are predicting an end to the EV revolution, Kia and corporate cousin Hyundai are acting like one of the few adults in the room — calm, measured, and confident. Everyone is expecting BYD to become a market leader in the next few years, but around the punchbowl in the employee lounge at CleanTechnica headquarters, we think Hyundai Motor Group may be quietly positioning itself to be one of the big winners of the EV sweepstakes.

Hyundai Motor Group’s electric cars have garnered praise from customers and industry analysts and both are perennial leaders in customer satisfaction polls. Clearly, this is a company that knows where it is going and how to get there. If this were a horse race, we would put our money on the combination of Kia and Hyundai to finish at least third and if they did better than that, we would not be at all surprised.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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