Kia is looking at making a battery-electric version of its entry-level Picanto micro car, Automotive News Europe reports.
If the Picanto EV makes production it would be the third electric Kia, following in the footsteps of the e-Soul and e-Niro crossover. Kia is aiming to have an EV "in almost every main segment", according to Emilio Herrera, chief operating officer of Kia Europe, targeting 40,000 electric sales in Europe next year.
By the end of this year, it expects to have sold around 20,000 examples of its current electric models.
Herrera wouldn’t commit to a timeframe for the Picanto EV but said "there’s nothing confirmed yet, but we are really looking at it”, while admitting it would be a challenge to turn the little hatchback into an electric vehicle.
These tentative plans hinge on whether Kia can strike the right balance in terms of production costs and list price. The cheapest Picanto is priced at €10,290 (A$16,700) in Germany.
The range-topping Picanto X-Line, when loaded with all available options, retails for €19,479 (A$31,700).
Herrera said a Picanto EV would currently cost close to €20,000 (A$32,500) and the company would need to get production costs down to the €16-17,000 (A$26-28K) mark. Finding synergies with sister brand Hyundai may help, as Hyundai may want to field an electric version of its redesigned i10.
It’s already difficult to maintain profitability of conventional internal-combustion micro cars in Europe, let alone tiny electric cars.
In announcing the discontinuation of their micro cars, Ford and Opel both blamed new, more stringent European Union emissions limits. The passing of these regulations would have required the companies to fit costly new technology to cars already struggling to remain profitable.
Currently, only Smart, PSA and Mitsubishi sell electric micro cars in Europe. However, the Smart Fortwo and Mitsubishi i-Miev (and its Citroen and Peugeot clones) all cost more than €20,000 (A$32,500).
They’ll soon have competition. In addition to Kia’s mooted entrant, Seat is developing a new electric vehicle platform for the Volkswagen Group smaller than the new MEB architecture. It may be used to underpin successors to today’s Volkswagen Up, Seat Mii and Skoda Citigo, with Seat targeting a price range of below €20,000 (A$32,537).
Less realistic, in Herrera’s estimation, are Renault’s plans to launch a €10,000 (A$16,295) electric vehicle within five years. He also said government subsidies for electric vehicle purchases will become unsustainable as more and more EVs are sold.
Making things more difficult for the electro-Picanto’s profitability is its limited appeal in other markets. While Kia sells the electrified Soul and Niro in the US market, there’d be virtually no demand there for an electric car as small as the Picanto.
And while the Picanto absolutely dominates the Australian Micro car segment, it’s a tiny segment in terms of overall volume.
Conversely, micro cars are relatively popular in Europe with total sales in 2018 of 1,240,492 vehicles. The Picanto was the seventh best-selling vehicle in the segment, although Kia sold less than half of the market-leading Fiat 500’s numbers.