Kia’s PBV revolution: Could robotaxis become commonplace?

  • Kia introduces PBV, a modular EV line transforming commercial vehicles.
  • PV1, PV7, and PV5 redefine versatile, autonomous mobility for diverse uses.
  • Kia enters software-driven fleet management under Hyundai’s SDx for customized solutions.

 Kia revolutionises work-driven mobility with PBV innovation

With a focus on extensive modularity, advanced software control, and the possibility of a robotaxi in the future, Kia is charting ambitious plans for the utility vehicle space.

Introducing the Kia Platform Beyond Vehicle, or PBV for short. It goes beyond the conventional notion of a single car, evolving into an entire platform of transformative, modular EVs tailored for the future work-centric landscape. Unveiled at CES, the PV1 small van, PV7 large van, and the midsize PV5, featuring several variants, stand as the embodiment of Kia’s innovative approach. Notably, the PV5 lineup will expand, encompassing an autonomous robotaxi among its futuristic offerings.

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In a recent news release, Kia’s president and CEO, Ho Sung Song, said the PBV line:

“represents our vision of going beyond the traditional concept of automobiles by fulfilling the unmet needs of diverse customers and communities through optimised vehicles and services catering to specific market and business circumstances.”

In simpler terms, what sets this apart is its departure from the typical influx of electric crossovers. Kia seems to be venturing into an entirely new realm beyond just car sales. These vehicles are not just cars – they’re a comprehensive mobility solution. The focus is on integrating purpose-built electric vehicles with advanced software solutions. This aligns with the Hyundai Motor Group’s software-to-everything (SDx) strategy. This signals a significant shift, indicating that software-driven fleet management will play a substantial role in the forthcoming developments.

Some details, such as cost, specifics of the battery packs, and estimated ranges, are yet to be unveiled. However, this news provides an intriguing glimpse into Kia’s upcoming ventures. Anticipation builds as Kia keeps certain elements under wraps, leaving room for speculation about the exciting developments on the horizon.

Kicking off with the PV5 family, currently designated as the Concept PV5, though it exudes a production-ready appearance. While retaining Kia’s futuristic design language, it has been somewhat refined for commercial purposes, giving it a distinctive identity. The CES debut showcased four variants of the PV5 – Basic, Van, High Roof, and Chassis Cab. Each of these features expansive, pillarless door openings and a spacious interior, underlining a commitment to practicality and versatility.

Kia introduces a compelling feature: the modular and transformable design of the body parts behind the driver.

This innovation allows a single chassis to take on various forms as desired by the owner. Beyond the cab, the “life modules” represent different van bodies. These are connected to the base vehicle through a hybrid electromagnetic and mechanical coupling technology. This allows the PBV to switch roles seamlessly—from a taxi during the day to a delivery van at night, and even transforming into a personal recreational vehicle on weekends. This adaptability caters to a range of needs and applications.

The concept of a modular car is not new, with the Nissan Pulsar Sportbak from the 1980s being an early example, albeit one that mostly remained in the conceptual stage. This model is already far more plausible thanks to integrating the battery pack and electric motors into the floor. This configuration addresses many of the drivetrain challenges that traditionally hindered the realization of modular internal combustion cars. With the advent of electric propulsion, the prospect of turning modular car concepts into practical, functional vehicles seems more promising.

Kia goes a step further by highlighting that the body structure of these vans is weldless. As such, it features moveable members that can adapt to the varying sizes of the vehicles in this lineup. While further details about the manufacturing techniques are eagerly anticipated, Kia emphasises that the Dynamic Hybrid technology allows for the swift and straightforward in-field transformation of a Kia PV5. Shipped in a standardised and convenient kit form, this technology adds an element of ease and flexibility to the modification process.

The PV5 takes center stage in Kia’s vision for a dedicated robotaxi in the future.

This model offers a more practical van body style for robotic taxi services compared to other vehicle options. Although limited details are provided about this model, Kia aims for Level 4 autonomy.

The robotaxi industry has faced setbacks of late, including setbacks for companies like Cruise and the closure of Argo AI. However, there remains a steadfast belief among automakers and tech companies in the business potential of eventual full autonomy. Kia, in its pursuit of this autonomous future, collaborates with prominent entities such as Boston Dynamics, Uber, the Dubai Taxi Corporation, and its own Motional joint venture. Together, they are developing a “PBV-dedicated business system” tailored for these robotaxis, emphasising Kia’s commitment to staying at the forefront of this evolving landscape.

Expanding the lineup, Kia introduces the PV7 as a large van with an emphasis on impressive range, catering to long-distance hauling needs. Meanwhile, the PV1 specialises in short-distance transportation. As such, it features a turning radius optimised for manoeuvring in tight spaces.

Beyond the vehicle specifics, Kia places a significant focus on software within the PBV line.

This encompasses fleet management, over-the-air updates, and AI technologies tailored for custom business solutions. The software package includes features like inventory monitoring, temperature control, and intelligent route planning for enhanced efficiency. Kia envisions this comprehensive solution streamlining fleet management through real-time data and AI integration, offering predictive maintenance and optimal operational efficiency.

Kia is investing in a dedicated plant in Korea, slated to be operational in 2025. This facility, designed for customisation to meet the diverse needs of commercial clients, is expected to have an annual capacity of 150,000 units, reflecting Kia’s commitment to the future of the PBV line.

In a significant expansion of its scope, Kia’s PBV line announcement positions the company at the crossroads of Google’s Waymo and Rivian’s commercial van business, potentially on a larger scale. This move reflects the broader industry trend where car manufacturers must evolve beyond traditional car sales to thrive. Kia’s foray into comprehensive mobility solutions, featuring electric vehicles, adaptable technology, and a dedicated manufacturing plant, marks a bold stride into a future where adaptability and innovation are crucial for sustained success.

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