The Korean brand says that it’s uniquely positioned to bring EVs to the masses.
Nearly every carmaker showed off EVs at this month’s Geneva Motor Show. But there was only one brand in Geneva – Tesla wasn’t there – that can make all these claims:
- Multiple long-range EVs today on sale today (Kia Niro EV and Soul EV)
- The unveiling of a new, dedicated all-electric platform
- Every vehicle on display had some form of electrification (from hybrid to EV)
- Positioning for mass acceptance with affordable, non-premium models
Moreover, Kia appears to be on an environmental mission. “Why are we shifting to electrics?” asked Alper Celik, senior product manager for Kia Motors Europe. “We are doing it for the sake of a green environment and bringing this technology into the mainstream of society, not making it just a niche product. We must electrify the whole society.”
Celik said that EVs offered with a premium price by luxury brands can’t achieve that goal – but Kia can. He admitted that Nissan has the same goal with the LEAF. Celik applauds Tesla, Audi, and other automakers with ambitious EV goals. “What I’m saying is that Kia is doing it in a more accessible way, opening up a big door to mainstream customers,” he said. “What Kia does with EVs is important for the whole industry.”
Kia Niro Electric Is Sold Out
The all-electric version of the Niro went on sale in Europe earlier this year and is coming soon to the US. Celik told me that the entire 2019 Niro EV model year is sold out. All 10,000 units are allocated to global markets. “The demand is much higher than our capacity,” he said. “This year’s capacity for the electric Niro, more than 10,000 cars, have owners. It's done.”
Of course, my immediate follow-up question to Kia was, “Why can’t you quickly ramp up production to meet the demand?”
Celik replied: “Mainly because the battery supply is very limited. There are only a few suppliers of batteries in the world, including LG Chem, SK Innovation, Panasonic, and Tesla. These are the major suppliers, and their capacity is limited. That’s also because the minerals are limited. We are in discussion and negotiation with all the suppliers, but they are supplying to many other OEMs as well. And they have their own Tier 2 suppliers. All of this is making the supply chain very difficult.”
Other automakers I spoke with in Geneva, including Audi, expressed similar problems with battery supply.
Celik said that the raw materials and finished batteries are still more expensive than desired. He noted that independent research used by Kia pegs installed battery packs at about $170 per kilowatt-hour. That roughly equates to an $11,000 pack for the 239-mile, 64-kWh Kia Niro Electric.
Nonetheless, Kia is expecting battery supply to improve and battery costs to come down. That explains why Kia in Geneva unveiled its Imagine concept car – mostly as a way to introduce its plans for a dedicated EV platform. Celik underscored all the advantages for range, aerodynamics, interior space, and convenience of a dedicated platform compared to a combustion car converted to EV.
Kia’s dedicated electric platform sets the company up for a significant expansion of EVs – beyond its existing EVs and plug-in hybrids. “There will be multiple dedicated EVs to come, but we will also electrify almost our whole lineup of existing cars,” he told me. That led to this exchange.
InsideEVS: Will the new EVs have more range, maybe close to 300 miles?
Celik: Yes. It will be much more than 300 miles.
How long do we have to wait?
Not so long.
Not that quick but in a few years.
At a typical Kia price point?