A full range of vans with driverless tech and swappable bodies is just the start of Kia’s LCV ambitions.
Kia has announced itself as a new name in the van world with the unveiling of a range of concept vehicles at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Kia has ambitious plans to launch a range of electric vans in four sizes with multiple body types starting with the PV5, a medium-sized van.
The model will be built at a new production facility in Korea with plans to make 150,000 units by 2026 when the PV5 will go on sale at an ambitious target price of €35,000 (£30,000) for entry-level models. Kia has named the entire new product line as PBVs (Platform Beyond Vehicle) and the new manufacturing site has been designed solely to produce PBVs which will use a bespoke and more flexible manufacturing process that will eventually see production reach up to 300,000 units by 2030 for all models.
As well as a medium van, there will also be a larger model, named PV7 that will follow in 2027. The range, as revealed at CES, will be completed by a smaller fully autonomous driverless model called PV1, which is planned for phase two of its three phase van range launch.
Second phase products will be launched between 2027 and 2032 and the PV1 will have level 4 autonomous capabilities with AI-based mobility functions that will allow it to interact with its environment and other vehicles. The range is planned to continue to evolve beyond 2032 with more conceptual ideas around big data and connected cities. A fourth city van model, with room for a driver, called PV3 is also planned with no specific timeline but its arrival will depend on how the other models in the range are received.
The PV5 will come in both standard and high roof variant panel vans, as well as people mover and an autonomous taxi. The PV5 Concept measures 4.7m long, making it similar in length to a Ford Transit Custom.
Kia is aiming for a useable range of around 200 miles, but there’s no official announcement yet on what motors or batteries the PV5 range will get, although it will be built on an adapted version of the E-GMP platform which is currently used by the Kia EV6 and Kia EV9?electric passenger cars. However, the PV5 range will use a 400V electrical system, rather than 800V.
Kia also plans to introduce body swapping technology by 2027, an example of which was shown as a pick-up body based on a PV5 chassis cab.
A feature of each of the models is their universal load-height which will allow loads to be transferred seamlessly between the vehicles, regardless of their size.
Kia’s concept shows the larger PV7 – a 5.0m to 5.9m model – off-loading its contents to the autonomous PV1 using a rail system which transfers cargo modules between the vehicles.
Kia confirmed that the PV7, scheduled for release in 2027, will be available in front-wheel-drive and with an all-wheel-drive model. Further details of PV1 and PV3 are not yet available as neither has a planned on-sale date yet.
Built on an electric skateboard platform, all PBV models have what’s called a “dynamic hybrid” modular body, that Kia says reduces the amount of parts needed by 55%. It combines tubular steel and engineered polymers with no loss of strength.
There will also be a high level of recycled content in the range, with materials like recycled sea plastics from The Ocean Cleanup project being re-used in the vans.
Kia isn’t entirely new to commercial vehicles, in addition to a military vehicle division there are a handful of domestic vans on offer, but the new range of PBVs will be the first time the products have gone global and it’s Europe that is very much in its sights.
“PV5 is a C-segment van, and the European market is the biggest for that, then we will move on to other markets,” explains Sangdae Kim, Kia Global’s head of strategic business planning division (pictured).
“There’s a lot of rebadging [amongst European LCV manufacturers], and I don’t think that’s the right approach for our target customers. We are going to provide a really innovative product. By using our product they are going to increase their business productivity and effectiveness.”
Fleet customers are the target market for both van and people mover versions of the PV5, with Kia having already signed a memorandum of understanding with Uber to develop a PV5 model specific to their needs.
Sandgea Kim also believes that the €35,000 price tag will be achievable.
“We are going to use common components from our battery system, and our existing technology. We are going to provide 100% EVs for B2B customers and will do our best to meet the price target.” He added: “The biggest challenge will be how to gain our customers trust.”
Kia says the design of the production vehicle is 85% complete, with most of the changes occurring due to the need for more practical elements. As an example, the Kia EV9 passenger car that was shown as a concept ended up with a significantly increased ride height in order to accommodate batteries. That’s no bad thing as it would aid visibility – the current seating position appears relatively low, especially in the PV7. There are doubts about the dealer network with Kia expecting its current network of dealers to initially take up the strain, but consideration has been made for a selection of dedicated sites to service fleet needs at a later date.
They’re not vans, they’re PBVs (Platform Beyond Vehicles). Kia’s new vocabulary for its upcoming light commercial vehicle range might be confusing but the intention is certainly there. Forward-thinking models with a bold design and ambitions to not only deliver a complete range of zero-emission vehicles but to extrapolate their use to industries and areas where others haven’t dreamt of going makes the whole concept intriguing, to say the least.
Having seen the vehicles up close and personal, even at this concept stage, it’s hard to picture just how they might fit in to our traditional LCV world, but that’s also the point.
With no legacy diesel models to constrict their design or aspirations, who is to say that this isn’t the future of goods transportation? However, in order for it to be a success in the short term – bearing in mind that first models should appear at the end of next year and in Europe in 2026 – there are a few areas to address. The light and airy cabin, made with sustainable materials on the dash likely won’t stand up to the rigours of the commercial world. Digital bumpers certainly won’t make it into a production model, but even the overly large apertures of the sliding doors look infeasibly large and most likely heavy to cope with day to day open and shut requirements. Some ideas, though are great, the rear door storage pockets and the uniform loading height make great sense. Whether or not the rail system and other storage solutions like loadable pods become a reality is open to debate. It’s an intriguing and encouraging start, though, and if Kia and sister-company Hyundai’s approach to passenger cars over the last two decades is echoed in their PBV strategy there’s no reason to doubt they will be a success, on some level at least.
George Barrow is the UK jury member for the International Van of the Year Award.