This upstart won us over with great quality and beautiful design. Can they do it again?
First, a little backstory: We’ve watched Kia transform from a value brand that delivered a ‘you get what you pay for’ lineup to one of the more exciting and elegant brands on the road. From the Telluride, which is still pretty much sold out and the Stinger, a world class performance sedan, to forward-thinking tech-packed cars like the Kia Niro EV, Kia’s first EV which was introduced two years ago, the K5, which I think is one of the best cars on the road right now, and the Sorento Hybrid, the best priced hybrid 3 row SUV you can buy, the company has been focused on doing their best work and winning major kudos, including JD Power’s highest initial quality rating for its vehicles.
Sales are strong and customers are happy. So, what’s a successful company to do next? Kia isn’t one to just ride that wave to shore; instead, the strategy was to paddle out, take stock of the landscape, and decide where to take their customers next. That destination is electric, shared and comprehensive. They call it Plan S, a $25 billion global transformation strategy, with ’S’ standing for ‘shift.’
About Last Night…
I was in New York City when Kia revealed the EV6 on the eve of the city’s full reopening. There was electricity on the Kia stage in Times Square, and there was electricity in the air. The whole city was glowing, transformed, stronger, overflowing with optimism.
That feeling describes Kia, too. The EV6 is just the first step in Kia’s new ambition, and the mission is moving fast. The company is taking orders for the EV6 and will deliver them to buyers in early 2022. Then, within the next 8 years, by 2030, “we fully expect that more than 60% of our sales mix will be some sort of electrified vehicle, EV or plug-in hybrid,” Russell Wager, chief marketing officer of Kia America, told me over coffee. Sales have started now, with orders being taken for the first 1,500 EV6 models, which will be delivered will be in early 2022. The First Edition is priced under $60,000 and Kia is giving customer choice of a free in-home level 2 charger, a charging credit that can be used at public chargers or, for seasoned EV owners, an Apple watch to connect to the system so they can monitor the car even when they are not in it.
The EV6 is just the start of Kia’s new electrification plan, which originated with the Kia Niro EV two years ago. “We are bringing 6 EVs to the US by 2026,” and 11 overall globally.
However, Kia isn’t abandoning gas powered cars. “As long as consumers are looking for those we’ll offer them,” Russell said. “We’ll give them the choice; we don’t want their choice to be a trade off.” And that is the premise of Kia’s approach to building and selling EVs.
You Said It, Kia Heard It: EV’s with No Compromises, Please
In assessing their future and how the company provides what people need, they surveyed customers, those who drive Kias and those who don’t, and heard one thing loud and clear: No one wants to make compromises in order to drive an electric car. That is the basis of the EV 6.
“There’s less of a trade off in one area for our customers: they will more than likely put in a in home charger,” Russell said. “But what happens if they go more than the usual 50-100 miles, state wide or cross country? The question is ‘where will I charge this vehicle and how long will its take?’ Infrastructure makes it so they don’t have to worry about it,” he said.
Kia is working with an alliance of auto manufacturers to encourage the Biden administration to build out the charging infrastructure faster so people can charge when and where they need. The goal is that by 2030 we’ll have the same number of EV chargers as we do gas pumps.
But the no-compromise idea doesn’t stop there. “When [customers] look at EV range of 300 miles, it’s not a trade off any more; when I go to the gas station it takes me 5 minutes to get out, pump gas” and fill the tank for its full driving range, Russell said. “You can do that in the EV6 – get 70 miles [in 5 minutes] or for a little bit extra, 18 minutes, get 200 miles” of charge.
Now, time at the pump isn’t a compromise and even better, for customers charging at home, there is little or no ‘time at the pump.’
Another no-compromise is the driver experience. New EVs are not the small, slow, golf-cart-like vehicles that many consumers envision. “If you want performance, we’ll give you 576 horsepower, so okay, I don’t have to worry about a performance trade off now,” Russell said. And, “if you want to go camping you get the bonus of bidirectional charging,” which allows you to use your car to power your tools, lights, stove, and more. EVs will eventually even be able to power our homes if we need them to.
Luxe Interiors Because… This is the New Kia
Kia’s been on a journey of refining its interiors with world class designers, top-grade materials, and an eye toward sustainability. The interior of the EV6 takes this to a new level with a premium look and feel, and “vegan leather made of recycled plastic bottles from the ocean,” Russell told us. And, there’s the luxury of not having to worry about driver assist and safety technology, most of which are included standard on all EV6 models.
There’s also a new approach to the “displays, instrument panel, and navigation; they are easy to read, easy to use. The navigation system with Kia Connect is intuitively helping you” as you drive. Overall, the EV6 is designed to feel substantive, not experimental or transitional.
The overall design is the result of a global effort involving Kia’s three design studios in California, Korea, and Europe. The team was able to take advantage of a number of innovations to develop an EV that looks like performance car from the front but a crossover from the back, another reflection on customer feedback: people like look and feel of a performance car, but the space and flexibility of an SUV.
The EV6 is built on a foundation that Kia calls the EGMP platform, a literal platform under the car that offers flat stage for the battery pack. This leaves more room for leg room, storage, and even a more open center console, which is a showpiece: the console is cantilevered between the two front seats, hovering between them and extending almost but not quite to the dash panel. This leaves a space between the console and the dash where you can store a handbag or laptop. I particularly loved this detail.
Related: The Kia EV6 is Kia’s First-Ever Battery-Powered Electric Vehicle and We Can’t Wait to Drive It
Addressing the Bigger Issues To Drive Change in the World
So, OK, the electric future sounds good, but what is the reality? Our power flickers out for minutes or days every time a storm blows through. The weather heats up and we have rolling brownouts. Freak snowstorms are a regular thing and they can disrupt the flow of electricity. We all have grid issues, and this is a key part of the President’s infrastructure plan. Many states are taking on the issue too; New York is spending $700 million to install 50,000 chargers statewide and other states are considering similar plans. The overall goal is to have same number of chargers as there are gas pumps by 2030.
As long the plan tackles what needs to be done anyway, Russell believes, EV owners will be fine, and those with bidirectional charging will be even better off than those with only gas cars in their driveways (remember, when the power is out gas pumps don’t work, either).
To further prepare for the electric future, Kia is fortifying its dealer network. Until recently less than a third were certified to sell and service EVs. “We started an effort at the first of the year to get all our dealers certified and trained by the end of this year, to understand how to charge EVs, service them, the options of charging,” Russell said. “All 750+ dealers will have chargers,” so charging at a Kia dealer can be among the choices consumers have to replenish their batteries on the road.
“We’re also training our dealers to let the customer experience” EVs, he said. “Once they get in” and discover the fast quiet ride, the modern design, and understand the process and lower cost of electric charging and maintaining an EV, “all the sudden they are willing to pay extra [for a vehicle] because the overall cost is going to be lower.”
What Does Russell Most Want You to Do? Take a Test Drive
“You have to try it,” he said. “There’s this mystique,”that an EV is slow or somehow a lightweight on the road, “but it drives like any car and in many cases, better,” he said. In an EV, “the performance is instantaneous.” In a conventional gas car, you pull away from a traffic light and there’s a lag as the engine to revs up to deliver power and as the torque builds up. But in an EV “it’s instant; you put your foot on the pedal and the car is going to go where you want it to go,” Russell said.
Kia Wants to Be Your Everything: Car, Mobility, Solutions For Getting Around
“The company is transforming, and that was part of the reason for changing the name and logo,” Russell told us. “It used to be Kia Motors America, now it’s Kia America (globally the name is Kia Corporation) to incorporate all mobility solutions,” he said. The new logo, which is more of a script with rising lines (‘Ki’ literally means risen or arisen in Korean) signals the company’s ambition to raise their game.
And what do they mean by “mobility” solutions? Well, everything that gets you where you’re going: The company will focus on building electric vehicles in the near future, but in the long term the plan will include sustainable cars, delivery vehicles, personal transportation and mobility as a service — think self driving vehicles that pick you up and drop you off. Kia’s parent company Hyundai has been on this journey for several years with the development of everything from flying taxis to alternative fuel systems to shape-shifting vehicles that can drive on roads and then climb over hills.
It’s Not When You Get to the Game, It’s How You Play That Counts
If it seems like every car company is shifting strategies to feature electrification as a central component, they are. However, as many companies have learned, you don’t have to be the first to the market, you have to be the best. So Russell and his team are implementing what they heard from customers, from their reservations about buying an EV and thinking about how they can make people feel comfortable and confident with EV ownership. He believes that the secret to having customers trade in gas cars for EVs is offering fewer trade-offs in the car and more confidence on the road. And, delivering the cars that we want and love, including SUVs. Which was my first and last question: will there be an electric SUV in the lineup?
He wouldn’t say how many of the new EVs will be SUVs, but he did give us a hint. “Expect news at the New York Auto Show” in August. So, we’ll just have to wait, but it no doubt will be worth it.