Kia’s transition to electrification - Just Auto
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Kia’s transition to electrification

05 May 2021 (Last Updated May 12th, 2021 18:29)

This year is a significant one for Kia as it gears itself up to launch the new EV6 crossover. While existing models such as the e-Niro and Soul EV are based on ICE platforms, the EV6 is the first Kia based on the group’s dedicated EV platform, codenamed e-GMP. The model will feature ultra-fast 800V charging, allowing drivers to charge from 10% to 80% in 18 minutes. To learn more, Matthew Beecham talked to Sjoerd Knipping, Kia Europe’s Product and Planning Director.

We understand that this is a new role for you at Kia. Could you tell us a little more about it?

My main responsibility is to shape Kia Europe’s product strategy in what is an extremely exciting time for the brand. As the automotive world shifts towards electrification, we’re at the forefront of this movement as we plan on introducing seven dedicated BEVs by 2026, all developed on our high-tech Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP). I’ve just overseen the launch of the first of these exciting new models: the EV6 crossover, a game-changer thanks to its long-distance real-world driving range, ultra-fast charging capabilities and standout design. I am also helping to establish a digital product framework that focuses on connectivity – helping to improve our customers’ daily lives. I am very happy – and at the same time very proud – to be offered this unique opportunity to shape Kia’s future and build upon its current success.

Earlier this year, Kia rebranded itself. Could you add a little more colour behind the rebranding?

Today, the automotive industry is on the cusp of massive change. As well as the widespread shift to EVs, technology will increasingly provide us with more connected and sophisticated mobility services. While our new brand logo and slogan ‘Movement that inspires’ offers a glimpse towards these forward-looking products and services, it’s far more than just a marketing exercise. Our rebrand signals to the wider world our commitment to provide sustainable mobility solutions and eco-friendly mobility services, centered on electric and autonomous driving. We are also committed to changing the way people experience our brand, both online and in-store, for the very best customer experience.

The all-electric EV6 is the first Kia based on the Group’s dedicated EV platform. How has Kia’s design language evolved with this crossover?

The packaging benefits brought about by our new and sophisticated E-GMP architecture has enabled us to completely redefine the exterior and interior design of our all-new BEV – the EV6 – in a way that wouldn’t have been possible by using an existing ICE platform. The EV6 is the first model to adopt our new ‘Opposites United’ design language which takes inspiration from the contrasts found in nature and humanity. It uses a combination of sophisticated, high-tech features with a rich, pure modern form. The result is a contemporary, sleek and aerodynamic crossover-inspired design.

As our first dedicated BEV, the EV6 crossover stands out in many ways. Externally, characteristic daytime running lights display a sleek, modern appearance that forms part of the car’s new ‘Digital Tiger Face’. Elsewhere, wheels pushed out to the corners, short front and rear overhangs and strong shoulders help to create a powerful and athletic stance. Inside, a high-tech curved high-definition audio visual and navigation screen and a slim dashboard design helps to provide the driver and passengers with a real sense of space.

What would you say are the EV6’s stand-out features?

One of the main features of the EV6 is that it has the same high-tech touring capabilities as more premium BEVs currently on the market. Advanced 800V fast-charging capabilities will allow drivers to charge from 10% to 80% in just 18 minutes. That is incredibly fast – and in terms of a comparison, it is quicker than most smart phones!

We have also ensured the EV6 is a sporty and fun car to drive with the fitment of a performance-orientated powertrain. The dual motor powertrain of the EV6 GT model, for example, develops 430kW and 740Nm of torque, allowing for a 0-100km/h sprint time of just 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 260 km/h. Combine this with the standout design and state-of-the-art cabin and interior tech, and you end up with a car that is truly very special.

Will the EV6 receive regular software updates and what level of driver autonomy?

EV6 will be the first Kia to have OTA (Over The Air) updates, both in terms of software and map updates. Regarding driving autonomy, we have included a comprehensive and highly advanced suite of driver assistance systems to ensure enhanced levels of convenience and safety. For example, standard-fit systems include Lane Following Assist (LFA), which helps to keep the EV6 within the centre of its lane, and Highway Driving Assist, which helps the driver change lanes while staying distanced from the vehicle ahead and maintaining a specific speed. Remote Smart Parking Assist also makes parking a simple affair by moving the car autonomously out of tight parking spaces and around corners via remote control.

When will the EV6 be available in the UK? And what kind of sales volumes are you expecting?

We hope to sell approximately 30,000 units worldwide this year, and 100,000 units in 2022, the latter being the EV6’s first full-year on sale.

Kia has opened factory orders for the groundbreaking EV6 following a successful European reservation phase. The brand obtained 33,000 prospects, including 7,300 reservations. Customers will be able to order the EV6 from their local dealer already in the UK, ahead of production starting mid-2021. We hope to sell approximately 30,000 units worldwide this year, and 100,000 units in 2022, the latter being the EV6’s first full-year on sale.

To what extent does a dedicated EV platform offer more potential compared to EVs equipped with existing ICE architecture?

EVs based on existing ICE platforms are inherently compromised compared to EVs designed and developed on dedicated EV architectures. The driveline components of ICE vehicles are actually far more complex and less space-efficient. By using a dedicated EV platform like the E-GMP architecture, you can get rid of things like bulky transmission tunnels, and instead house batteries and other e-powertrain subsystems far more efficiently. For instance, the neat packaging of the EV6’s battery pack under a flat floor has led to a class-leading interior space. Dedicated platforms also make it easier to integrate the latest technologies to enable increased driving range and ultra-fast charging capabilities.

Despite recent sales uptake, the European EV market share still has a long way to go. Do you think there are social and cultural barriers in accepting EVs?

Today, just 10.2% of the European new car market relates to the sale of EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles. I believe factors relating to price, market positioning and product capability are factors as to why the EV market share is not greater. Many of today’s ‘affordable’ EVs are compact in size and offer a reduced driving range. EVs that are more spacious and offer a 300-mile-plus range tend to be priced out of reach for many people. More mainstream brands need to introduce EVs that can fit into people’s everyday lives, without compromise.

Customers also need access to a reliable and extensive public charging network. Drivers should be able to arrive at a working charger, make contactless payment via a fully integrated app, and charge their EVs without the difficulty of having to locate compatible chargers. Our new KiaCharge app gives drivers easy access to over 160,000 EV charge points across Europe via a single account. It includes access to the IONITY ultra-fast charging network of which Kia is a key stakeholder.

Which of your vehicles is striking a chord with European buyers?

Even before the all-new all-electric EV6 has arrived in showrooms, sales of our other advanced electrified models continue to grow at a rapid pace. In the first quarter of 2021, our hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles accounted for 28.4 percent of total brand sales in Europe, up from 18.9 percent during the same period last year. Sales of the fully-electric Kia e-Niro grew by a staggering 124 percent, despite the impact of the pandemic. It’s currently the UK’s second best-selling BEV.

The automotive industry has taken a hammering over the past 12 months. Could you sum up the EV market today and the challenges that the industry faces as Europe emerges from the pandemic?

EV sales are on the rise and I see this trend continuing as more dealers open-up post pandemic lockdown. People understand more than ever the importance of tackling climate change and choosing an EV is one of the many important ways they can lessen their overall environmental impact. With the pandemic affecting consumer confidence, it is imperative that policy makers continue to support the uptake of EVs through incentives and the speedy full rollout of reliable charging infrastructure.