Kia Australia is set to begin selling its first electric car before the end of next year, once its dealer network is up to speed on how to sell and maintain them.
The EV in question is the newly revealed e-Niro, which appeared this week at the Paris motor show. It’s a small SUV with a WLTP-tested driving range of 485km on one charge.
The launch will give Kia Australia its answer to the similar Hyundai Kona Electric due in Australia sooner, as well as the second-generation Nissan Leaf. The EV rollout is finally starting to get momentum locally.
"It's not confirmed but we're very interested. Late next year would be the expected launch. We have to go through a bit of a process," Kia Australia's COO Damien Meredith told us today.
However, company insiders tell us the Korean-made EV SUV is more or less locked in, with a few loose ends left to be sorted - one of which is securing a profitable price point that it hopes is below $50k.
The e-Niro joins existing hybrid and PHEV variants of the car sold elsewhere – more than 200,000 have sold globally since introduction in 2016. The e-Niro is to be Kia’s second globally-sold electric vehicle after the Soul EV.
“Annual sales of electric vehicles across Europe are expected to reach 200,000 this year, rising to nearly one million units by the end of 2022, while the crossover market is also forecast to continue expanding in the coming years,” said Kia Europe’s COO Emilio Herrera.
“The e-Niro is a clear demonstration of the progress Kia has made.”
Meredith said today that the company "has got to start" rolling out EV product, has its eye on a small EV hatch and large EV crossover down the track, didn't want direct government subsidies, and was aiming for a sub $50,000 price point.
Sales target? "If we launched the car next year we'd be looking at 120 units [annually]," he added.
When the Niro was first launched in 2016, its platform was engineered to accommodate a variety of powertrains. The introduction of battery-electric has had “minimal impact” on packaging. Its 451L boot is quite decent.
The design of the centre console represents the biggest change for the e-Niro’s inside, with the power unit negating the need for a traditional gear stick and gear linkage. The physical transmission has therefore been replaced with a new ‘shift-by-wire’ rotary-dial drive selector.
The drive selector dial sits on its own panel, which extends out from the base of the central arm-rest. The new panel requires no bulky transmission tunnel, enabling the designers to create a larger storage area at the base of the centre console.
The dashboard features bright blue trim around the vents, echoing the trim highlights found on the outside of the car. The cabin is trimmed in a choice of fabric and synthetic leather, full synthetic leather, or real leather.
A new mood lighting system illuminates the centre console and shift dial with subtle lighting, in one of six colours – white, grey, bronze, red, green, and blue. New high-gloss black and blue trim also lines the doors of the e-Niro, enhancing the “futuristic atmosphere”.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen shows owners nearby charging points, and the level of remaining charge and range. It also lets owners gauge their trip and lifetime CO2 reduction from driving the e-Niro, compared to a gasoline car of a similar size.
The system lets owners set an approximate departure time for their next journey, enabling the car to heat itself to a set temperature before the driver departs. The charge management function also manages the flow of electricity to the battery when charging.
The colour-LCD driver instrument cluster shows driving and battery charge information on-the-move. The display also shows what percentage of a journey has been completed with ‘dynamic’ driving.
The Niro will be equipped with a 64kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack. On the WLTP combined cycle, it provides a driving range of more than 485 kilometres on a single charge, or 615km on an urban loop where its waste-energy capturing system is most active.
Buyers will also be able to specify their e-Niro with a cheaper 39.2 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack, with a range of up to 312 kilometres. Plugged into a 100kW fast charger, it takes 42 minutes to recharge the e-Niro’s battery from 20 to 80 per cent, the company claims.
Models equipped with the long-distance 64kWh battery pack are paired with a 150kW motor, producing 395Nm torque, enabling the e-Niro to accelerate from zero to 100km/h in 7.8 seconds.
The standard 39.2 kWh battery pack is matched to a 100kW motor, also producing 395Nm torque, and accelerating to 100km/h in 9.8 seconds. Both are FWD.
The car alerts drivers as to the best time to lift off the accelerator and coast towards a junction, allowing the battery to regenerate under deceleration.
While the electric motor requires no transmission, the car still features a pair of metal paddles behind the steering wheel. These paddles let drivers choose between three levels of energy recuperation, reducing braking load at the same time.
A battery heating system is also fitted to the e-Niro, designed to insulate and warm up the battery while the vehicle is plugged in, minimising the adverse effects of cold temperatures.
As with other EVs, the battery pack is located low down in the body between the two axles, giving the crossover a lower centre of gravity. Kia swears it offers drivers maximum stability and driving enjoyment on winding roads, and minimal body roll under cornering.
Laminated windscreen glass, a cowl over the front windscreen wipers, specially-profiled door mirror casings and covers over the holes in the roof rails, high-insulation rigid bushes in the front subframe, and high-strength steel in the rear wheel arches reduce NVH intrusion.
Safety systems include AEB, active cruise control, lane assist and claimed level-two autonomy in traffic jams operates at up to 130km/h.
The e-Niro will also be covered by the regular seven-year warranty, and every dealer will offer servicing and will start fitting charging stations.
“The other thing that has to be in place is that [servicing],” Kia Australia's communication boss Kevin Hepworth added. “We’ll probably get a couple of early models in for specialist tech training, each dealership will be required to supply a tech”.
“Not every dealer will sell them but every dealer with have to service them – it’s pointless if you can’t take your car to your preferred dealer.”