Kia unveiled a series of highly customizable electric van concepts at the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show Tuesday, becoming just the latest automaker to enter that hotly competitive market.
Electric vans have become big business as Americans have gotten used to getting more things delivered and automakers and their corporate-fleet customers are looking for ways to reduce emissions.
Rivian already makes electric delivery vans for Amazon, its biggest investor, and recently announced it is selling the vans to other businesses as well. Ford sells the E-Transit, and General Motors has a subsidiary company, Brightdrop, selling its own electric delivery vans. Stellantis, the parent company of Ram trucks, will begin selling electric Ram Promaster EV vans soon.
Kia currently offers gasoline-powered family minivans, like the Kia Carnival, along with electric cars and SUVs.
But commercial vans are different. While some can be configured to carry passengers, they can also be used to haul cargo such as packages for delivery. They’re also used by workers like plumbers and contractors to carry equipment to job sites. They need to be easily customized for different business needs, something that Kia is emphasizing with its vehicles.
Among three concept vehicles the South Korean automaker revealed was a medium-sized van called the PV5. (Kia, itself, does not call the vehicles vans but, with their rectangular shapes and sliding doors, they fit the definition.) This version, which will be the first of the Kia vans to go on sale, is a highly flexible vehicle that can be quickly configured for various uses during the course of a workday.
The Kia PV5 can be configured as a passenger van as well as a cargo or work van.Kia
In the PV5, behind a front “driver zone,” which has the driver seat and controls, will be a separate body section that can be removed, allowing the vehicle to be, for instance, a passenger van at night then switched to a specialized work van during the day.
Kia also revealed a larger van, called the PV7, and a much smaller van, the PV1, designed to drive in tight urban settings. The PV7 is similar to very big vans that carry lots of cargo or that have multiple rows of seats for people. The PV1 is more similar to the very small vans used when a lot of cargo space isn’t needed but maneuverability and ease of parking are paramount.
The two larger and smaller concept vans are not as flexible and modular as the PV5. They still have highly customizable interiors that can be quickly reconfigured for different uses but without changing an entire body section, as with the PV5.
A company video showed a van steering with four wheels to pivot in a tight spot. Kia also announced plans to have the vans drive autonomously.
But these vans were displayed as concept vehicles so those features — as well as things like interchangeable body segments — may or may not feature in eventual production versions.
Once in production, Kia’s vans will be built at a designated factory in South Korea with an output of about 150,000 vans per year, the company said.
Kia will also offer an integrated fleet management system and a specialized customer support team for its future commercial customers, the company said. This is similar to management and support systems offered by both Ford and General Motors for their big fleet customers.
Kia did not provide pricing for the vans or any information about when, exactly, the vans would be available to customers.