Kia, With Help From Hyundai, Threatens, Tesla, Volkswagen European Electric Car Leadership

Kia of Korea and its subsidiary Hyundai are launching more impressive all-electric cars to provide a formidable challenge to market leaders like Volkswagen and Tesla, and are now spearheaded by the recently crowned European Car of the Year (COTY), the Kia EV6.

Surprisingly for a sporty SUV lauded as Kia’s first to be designed from the start to be all-electric, the EV6 lags in the all-important range stakes behind its own long-established Soul model. Kia claims the Soul’s 44.5 kWh battery can give you 280 miles of range, compared with my review which charged it to an average 266.5 miles, while the 77.4 kWh EV6 has a superior claim of 300 miles, but only managed an average 229.3 miles from the battery when I plugged it in.

And while the electric car revolution is currently in high gear, there are some ominous clouds on the horizon. Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic supply chain disruption has been derailed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This threatens to reverse the expected fall in battery prices by cutting the supply of crucial minerals.

A survey from Britain’s “Which?” consumer magazine suggests one of the main pillars of an electric car’s appeal to the public, simplicity and reliability, isn’t borne out by experience.

“Over 48,000 people from across the UK told us about the 56,853 cars they own and drive in our latest reliability survey. The results show that electric car owners suffer not only the highest average number of faults, but also the highest rate of cars breaking down or failing to start,” said Which? which has a strong reputation for accuracy and independence.

Which? says this is mainly because of unreliable software. There was also good news for Kia, and bad vibes for Tesla.

“Our new fuel-specific ratings reveal that Kia makes the most reliable electric cars you can buy, while Tesla makes the least reliable,” which? said.

Kia has announced an ambitious global sales target, aiming to raise sales by almost a third to 4 million by 2030, compared with 2022. Just over one quarter of that should be battery electric vehicles (BEV). Unlike its Hyundai affiliate, it has been silent about its hydrogen plans, if any. Kia’s next BEV is the EV9, scheduled for launch in 2023 and part of its plan for 10 new BEVs by 2026.

Last year, Volkswagen and its VW, Audi, Skoda, Porsche and SEAT brands, topped the West European sales charts with close to 300,000 sales and a 25.0% market share, according to Schmidt Automotive Research. Kia/Hyundai was in 5th place with 133,000 or 11.2% and behind Stellantis, Tesla and Renault Nissan. The best-seller was the Tesla Model 3 (140,000-11.7%), then the Renault Zoe (70,340-5.9%) and VW ID.3 (68,000-5.7%). The Kia Niro was 5th and the Hyundai Kona 9th, but this year things will hot up as the new Hyundai Ioniq 5 and the EV6 burst on the scene. Hyundai’s premium wannabe brand Genesis will also introduce the GV60, while Tesla’s German-made Model Y will no doubt generate much enthusiasm.

Matt Schmidt of Schmidt Automotive reckons the Koreans might have the inside track against Tesla.

“The main competitor is the Model Y of course. With Kia offering a 7-year guarantee on the EV6 you don’t have to look far for where they have a trump card over their Californian/European competitor. With Tesla’s quality issues still potentially scaring away some customers Kia may be able to score big with this. The ID.4 from Volkswagen is also another competitor, as well as the (similarly engineered) Ioniq 5 and the forthcoming Genesis derivative. Moving forward, models such as the Toyota bZ4x also which will be even closer given Toyota’s reliability fixation,” Schmidt said.

Volkswagen is also likely to be looking nervously at the new competition.

“Who are Kia and Hyundai most likely to threaten, and I would say VW Group models. With Hyundai/Kia’s quality arguably at the same level or even better than VW they certainly are in the position to scale up and offer a superior product at potentially a more competitive price than the Germans,” Schmidt said in an interview.

Arne Brethouwer, founder of Netherlands-based European data provider EV Database agrees.

“If both brands can keep up their current pace of EV development there won’t be many threats for them. They currently have a very solid and advanced platform that only few can compete within the segment. Other similar (manufacturers) have a lot of catching up to do. The only real direct competition within their segment currently comes from VW, mainly from the Skoda and VW brands,” Brethouwer said in an interview.

The EV6 has hit the market-place running, at least as far as public relations are concerned thanks to its COTY award. The looks are obvious and the on-the-road performance impressive. Inside, quality is the watchword. Kia points to its powerful public charging capability.

“800-volt ultra-rapid charging can take the battery from 10 to 80% in just 18 minutes when using a 350kW charger. A rapid charge from 10 to 80% takes 1 hour 13 minutes using a 50kW charger,” Kia said.

The EV6 suffers from the usual range of limitations from high-speed cruising, which I calculate at 31.3% for a motorway range of 157 miles. That lags the Soul’s impressive 205 miles. But the effective regenerative braking system means the range claimed to be available is attainable, as long as you keep out of the fast lane and stick to rural or urban missions.

The EV6 is a blast on the road, with super accurate steering, and it felt solidly planted through high-speed curves. Like most electric cars, the accelerator response is instant and ongoing. Inside, the dash is impressive, with the head-up display a nifty option. This projects basic information like the speed limit, your speed and simple SatNav instructions at eye level as though it’s at the end of the hood. You don’t have to take your eyes off the road ahead to read vital data. There’s plenty of room in the back and the boot was impressive, not surprising because this is a big car. This was the top-of-the-range GT Line S 77.4 kWh AWD version with 321 hp and 2 electric motors. There is a 223 hp version with a single motor and rear-wheel drive.

Kia EV6 GT Line S 77.4 kWh AWD

Electric motor – 2 permanent magnet synchronous motors (PMSM)

Power – front motor 98 hp + rear 225 hp = 321 hp

Torque – 605 Nm

Battery – 77.4 kWh Li-ion polymer

Gearbox – single-speed

Claimed battery range – 300 miles (city 391)

Charging – home charger 7 hours 20 minutes to 100%

– DC 350 kW 80% 18 minutes DC 50 73 minutes

Drive – all-wheels

Top speed – 114 mph

Acceleration – 0-60 mph 5.0 seconds

Suspension – McPherson/multi-link

Competition – VW ID.4, Tesla Y, Volvo XC40 Recharge, Mercedes EQA, Ford Mustang Mach E, Skoda Enyaq

Price in Britain – £51,945 ($68,250 after taxes)

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