Kia crashes CES with modular electric vehicle concept

It's about time someone figured out how to make swappable bits for EV skateboards

CES Korean automaker Kia has returned to CES after a five-year absence to unveil an eagerly anticipated electric vehicle concept: Modular vehicles that can be kitted out to fit various purposes.

Called the Platform Behind Vehicle (PBV), Kia introduced the new strategy alongside five sample vehicles including the large PV7, tiny smart car-like PV1, and three variations of the first model it plans to introduce, the PV5.

The PV5, which appears to be the cornerstone of Kia's modular EV future, is seen as being adaptable for purposes including ride hailing, delivery, and utility. If and when the PV5 becomes reality, Kia intends to release it with various modules, including a van body, a high roof, and a chassis cab. Kia eventually plans to introduce a robotaxi model of the PV5 as well.

Cabs on PBV vehicles will be fixed, but the rest of the body (excluding the all-important EV skateboard the entire platform is built on) will be able to be swapped out and secured with hybrid electromagnetic and mechanical couplings. Features will be shareable "across all vehicles," Kia said.

Frankly, it's about time someone came up with such a concept given that EVs eliminate most of the fiddly mechanical bits from the body of automobiles and move them to the base. 

"Kia's PBV business 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," said Kia president and CEO Ho Sung Song.

Phasing in the future

Kia's PBV plans certainly appear more than just a concept as the company is already developing a PBV-dedicated plant in Hwaseong, Korea, to build the vehicles. Expected to come online in 2025, the factory is forecast to pump out 150,000 units once it reaches production capacity.

With that in mind, Kia said it plans to implement its PBV strategy in three phases, starting with the introduction of the PV5 – but not much else.

The second phase is where things begin to get interesting as that's when Kia said it'll complete its PBV model lineup, including the introduction of the PV1 and PV7, the latter of which will be equipped with a "cabinet and frame" system designed to simplify the transportation of goods.

"An integrated rail system on the vehicle's ceiling, floor, and side panels, as well as on the exterior, enables customization of the vehicle to meet individual customer needs," Kia said.


How Kia envisions the PV7's track system being used

Phase two will also include "PBVs evolving into AI-based mobility platforms that use data to interact with users and help keep vehicles updated," Kia said. This will include an "integrated PBV solution" that provides a unified user experience across devices and hardware.

Far from being standalone modular vehicles, Kia reckons that in phase three the PBV lineup will evolve into a connected system "by integrating with the future mobility ecosystem" that the company is building for its PBV world.

Part of that will be a fleet management tool that connects PBVs to a central control point, enabling things like charging schedule optimization that accounts for routes and driver breaks. Vehicle inventory monitoring, temperature control, and route planning features will all be part of the suite as well.

Lest you think Kia forgot about the current tech buzzwords, "real-time data and AI integration for predictive maintenance and optimal operational efficiency" was mentioned as well. 

Kia has already established agreements with Uber, Dubai Taxi Corporation, Kakao Mobility, and others to develop additional business-centric features for the PBV fleet. 

"We are confident that these strong partnerships will be a driving force on the road to becoming a sustainable mobility solutions provider," said PBV group director Pierre-Martin Bos.

While Kia declined to include any technical details, or share them with us directly, a spokesperson told The Register that the first PV5s should be available sometime next year following completion of the Hwaseong factory. The new vehicles will initially be manufactured in Korea, though we're told Kia would like to have its PBVs available across Asia, North America, and Europe. ®

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