Kia's Modular Electric Van Concept Can Transform into a Pickup
We've seen vehicles like this before. They're battery-powered squarish boxes, they promise multiple use cases that should intrigue both businesses and consumers and the timeline for their eventual market appearance is fluid.
At CES 2024, Kia's PBV (Platform Beyond Vehicle) hit the marks with the breadbox form factor and the automaker showed off the commercial capabilities of the vehicle. But more importantly, it gave us a timeline for the first model of the upcoming lineup making its way to the road in Korea in 2025 and showed off the potential modularity of the vehicles with a demonstration of a van turning into a pickup truck.
At the unveiling, Kia showed off three versions of the PBV the autonomous small PV1, the larger PV7 cargo van-sized PV7, and the minivan-sized PV5.
The PV1 concept offers last-mile delivery options in a package that's about the size of the Fiat 500. In addition to being self-driving, all four wheels on the PV1 can steer independently of one another allowing for spinning up an axis and "crabwalk" type maneuvers. With the ability for the vehicle to raise and lower itself for loading and unloading, Kia demonstrated the PV1 pulling up behind a PV5 for a package transfer then driving itself to deliver a package to a residential area.
The larger PV7 concept could be utilized as a mobile shop. Its footprint large enough for a mobile food or retail location with different configurations. The modular aspect of the PBV lineup lends itself to customization based on a customer's needs.
Nowhere is that more prevalent than the PV5 which was shown with its rear passenger area being replaced with a pickup bed. This bit of modularity got most of the attention. The US market loves a pickup and having a vehicle that can transform into a truck from a van and back again is an intriguing sales pitch not only for businesses but for individual private owners.
The genesis of this idea started roughly four years ago according to Pierre-Martin Bos, senior director of PBV for Kia. Bos told SAE that the concept was to build something sustainable and more meaningful socially. The animations and videos of the PBV concepts show individuals being empowered to set up small businesses and children setting a goldfish free back into the wild via a robotaxi.
The initial plan was to build a delivery vehicle. After some research, it realized that there was so much more an EV like this could do. Individuals would be interested in something like this as families look for vehicles with room for passengers and cargo and there's the potential to create a recreational vehicle for those with active lifestyles.
Still, it's the big companies that will likely drive sales. Kia has announced a partnership with Uber but the automaker has it sights set on other uses. "initially Yes, we'll be happy to sign some big volumes because it's important for us to be there, but we really believe that our vehicle can work for the electrician and the plumber," Bos told SAE.
For the modularity, the ability to pull that off is basically because production and manufacturing has advanced to a point where Kia can do this for its customers. Bos does warn that this feature is not for today. But it's part of a vision of long-term sustainability.If customer demand is high enough, a single vehicle can be used in multiple ways. Bos shared a scenario "One weekend I want to go camping and then during the week, I will be a plumber. We will be prepared for that." The implication is that a single vehicle will be in use by a customer. If they started off needing, say a pickup, and after five years the customer needs a minivan, a PBV can pull that off.
Bos does see that while Kia would kick start this modular system, the market would likely come up with a host of ideas on its own. "You can imagine a dealer being able to have all the bodies in place and then creating the vehicle," Bow said. This is good news for dealerships as they look towards future revenue streams as items like the vehicle maintenance of an EV become less profitable compared to that of a gas-powered car.
The three-row van-like PV5 will start at $35,000 and be powered by a specialized variation of the Hyundai Motor Group's E-GMP electric vehicle platform. During a Q & A discussion with reporters, Kia told SAE that because this is essentially a B2B product (business to business) the company wanted to provide customers a flatter interior floor than what's currently available from the customer-focused version of E-GMP. This results in larger cargo space and overall interior room.
The PV5 will be the first of a three-phase rollout from Kia. The second phase will be between 2027 and 2032 with the launch of the larger PV7 in 2027 and the tiny PV1 in in 2028. The third phase beginning in 2032 is a bit more flexible with talks of grid and transportation integration with regions and the Supernal EVTOL veriports. All of these timetables are likely to be adjusted as Kia figures out how these vehicles fit both into its lineup and the world at large.
Initially, the vehicles will be built in Korea with a yearly production plan of 150,000 units with the option to increase production to up to 300,000 vehicles a year. Currently, a single factory will help with the manufacturing of the modular lineup. The facility is 40% complete according to Bos who does note that if demand becomes greater than anticipated, the company is open to regional production facilities.
The Korean facility that will build these vehicles will be a combination of a traditional line with that of the cell production line that Hyundai showed SAE in Singapore this fall. Bos notes that the combo line will give Kia flexibility and speed while producing the PBVs.
Kia sees a future where individual businesses and fleets are powered by sustainable architecture alongside private vehicle owners going to the beach or camping. There's a a lot to unpack in the PBV roadmap and Kia admits it doesn't have all the answers and it's going to be learning along the way. But if this system is a hit, it's likely going to bring the manufacturing of vans that can turn into pickup trucks, and back again and their batteries in the United States in the early 2030s.