Car companies love to talk about “mobility solutions” and “last-mile delivery systems,” but with a few notable exceptions, the commercial vehicle space feels like a pretty stagnant one. Even if they happen to be electric, most efforts in that arena are just delivery vans or maybe pickup truck. Where’s the innovation? Well, Kia—the Korean automaker that’s rapidly becoming a major power player in the EV space—unveiled some future commercial vehicle plans at CES today, and they do seem to be on a different level.
Meet the Kia Platform Beyond Vehicle, or PBV for short. It’s not just one car, but an entire platform of transforming, modular electric vehicles designed to underpin a family of future work-focused vehicles. The cars unveiled at CES are the PV1 small van, PV7 large van, and the midsize PV5, which actually comes in several variants that will also ultimately include an autonomous robotaxi.
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Kia’s got big, global plans
Though it used to be an ultra-budget brand, Kia is one of the fastest-growing automakers now in multiple countries and segments. Along with its corporate sibling Hyundai, it’s got big plans for more EVs and EV factories globally—and now the commercial and delivery world, too.
In a 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 optimized vehicles and services catering to specific market and business circumstances.”
In other words, what you’re seeing here is something different from the average electric crossover that seems to debut every week as of late. Moreover, this appears to be an entirely new line of business for Kia beyond just selling cars. These vehicles are “intended to be a total mobility solution that combines fit-for-purpose EVs with advanced software solutions based on the Hyundai Motor Group’s software-to-everything, or SDx, strategy,” the automaker said in a news release—meaning that fleet management via software will be a big part of what’s to come here.
A few key details have not been released yet, however, including the cost of these vehicles, what battery packs they’ll use and their estimated ranges. But this news offers a fascinating preview into what Kia has in store next.
We’ll start with the PV5 family, which for now is just being called the Concept PV5 even though it looks fairly production-ready. You still get Kia’s futuristic design language here, although it’s pared down a bit for commercial use and kind of stands on its own. Four variants of PV5 debuted at CES—Basic, Van, High Roof, and Chassis Cab—each with large, pillarless door openings and a great deal of interior room.
Here’s where things get really interesting. Kia says that the body parts behind the driver are modular and transformable, such that a single chassis can be used in multiple forms if the owner desires. Behind the cab, or “driver zone,” sit the “life modules”—basically, the different van bodies. Those “can be connected to the base vehicle via a hybrid electromagnetic and mechanical coupling technology, turning the PBV into a taxi during the day, to a delivery van at night, and a personal recreational vehicle on weekends,” Kia said.
The idea of a modular car has been around for many decades—the old Nissan Pulsar Sportbak delivered on this back in the 1980s—but it’s an idea that’s generally stayed in the concept realm. Presumably, using a battery pack and electric motors in the floor might allow this idea to become more of a reality, since that setup eliminates a lot of the drivetrain challenges you’d encounter with a modular internal combustion car.
Kia adds that the body structure of these vans is weldless, too, enabling moveable members to adjust to the different vehicle sizes at work here. We’re eager to learn more about how Kia’s doing that and the manufacturing techniques involved. ” Shipped in standardized, convenient kit form, Dynamic Hybrid technology is intended to allow for the quick and simple in-field transformation of a Kia PV5,” the automaker said.
More importantly, the PV5 is how Kia plans to introduce a dedicated robotaxi down the line. That van body style makes a lot more sense for such duty than, say, a Jaguar I-Pace. Kia added few details about that model, except to say that it aims for Level 4 autonomy—a high degree of full automated driving.
It’s crucial to note that the robotaxi industry has had a rough go the past few years. Last year saw a number of crushing setbacks for General Motors subsidiary Cruise, and a year before that, the whole business was stunned at the closure of Argo AI. But even if that industry is contracting, many automakers and tech companies alike seem dead-set on the business potential of eventual full autonomy.
Kia added that it’s working with companies like Boston Dynamics, Uber, the Dubai Taxi Corporation and its own Motional joint venture for a “PBV-dedicated business system” around these robotaxis.
Next, we have the two vans that that make up the smallest and biggest ends of the lineup. The PV7 is expected to be a large van with “impressive range” for long-distance hauling, while the PV1 is meant for short-distance transportation and has a turning radius designed for tight spaces.
There are several other key announcements here too. There’s a huge software focus with the PBV line that includes fleet management, over-the-air updates, AI technologies for custom business solutions and more. “Features may include inventory monitoring, temperature control, and intelligent route planning for efficiency. The solution is intended to streamline fleet management with real-time data and AI integration for predictive maintenance and optimal operational efficiency,” the automaker said.
Moreover, Kia is building a dedicated plant in Korea for the PBV family of vehicles—complete with customization for different commercial clients—that is expected to go online in 2025 and will have an annual capacity of 150,000 units.
All in all, this announcement represents a big expansion of what Kia does, how it does it and who it serves; it almost sounds like the Korean company’s cross between Google’s Waymo and Rivian’s commercial van business, on perhaps an even larger scale. And it’s another example of how car companies find themselves facing a future where they need to do more than just sell cars to survive.
More on all of this as we sit down with Kia’s executives at CES this week.
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