Update: ‘Kia electric truck in the U.S.?’ section added.
Kia will experiment with several new types of products as it transforms into an EV brand in the coming years. One of the categories it plans to enter is electric pickup trucks. Not one but two electric Kia truck models are in the pipeline, both due by 2026.
Dedicated & Strategic Kia electric truck models planned
At the 2022 Kia CEO Investor Day (March 3, 2022), Kia announced that it had realigned its long-term plan of expanding its EV line-up from 11 models by 2026 to 14 models by 2027. Two of the three additional EVs Kia has confirmed on its roadmap are electric truck models (Kia electric pickup trucks). According to a report from thekoreancarblog.com, the internal codename of one of the electric trucks is ‘Kia TK.’
The company mentioned that one of the two Kia truck models will be a dedicated EV and the other a “strategic model.” The latter could refer to a modified internal combustion engine vehicle platform. Since last year, reports have talked about the Electric Hyundai Santa Cruz, which could be loaned to Kia to generate its offering, while the other could be a brand new truck, designed from a clean sheet, to challenge the Ford F-150 Lightning, Tesla Cybertruck and the Rivian R1T.
Kia electric truck in the U.S.?
However, Kia America is not jumping the gun. Kia America Marketing VP Russell Wager spoke to Green Car Reports at the 2022 New York Auto Show and stated that Kia is still evaluating the business case for its upcoming electric truck. Wager stated that the product, which would be a global electric truck, would not be positioned in the affordable end of the segment and would be a premium offering. This is no surprise, as the aforementioned electric pickups are all premium products.
It would be an aberration if the Kia pickups don’t come to the U.S. market, or make the region it’s priority. Pickup trucks are extremely popular in the United States, and along with SUVs, accounted for more two-thirds of new vehicles sales in 2021. There are already hundreds of thousands of orders for upcoming models, and demand is in the stratosphere. The GMC Hummer EV and Hummer SUV, for instance, have 70,000 orders with wait times running into months and years, the Ford F-150 Lightning has 200,000 reservations, and the Chevy Silverado EV has 140,000 reservations. How Kia embraces the segment is something we can only wait and watch.
Starting in 2023, Kia will release at least two new EV models a year to establish a full line-up of 14 electric vehicles by 2027. On top of the 11 EV models announced last year, the electric pickup trucks and an emerging market entry EV are new additions.
What is stopping the company from launching a gas-engined Kia truck?
In December 2021, before the announcement of the electric Kia truck models, a report from CarsGuide.com.au said that a conventional Kia truck (Kia pickup truck) might not be on the manufacturer’s agenda. Kia is unlikely to offer a gas-engined sister product to the Hyundai Santa Cruz, which went to become the fastest-selling new truck in the USA in August 2021.
CarsGuide spoke to Kia Australia’s COO Damian Meredith who admitted that a Kia ute/pickup is “probably a long shot” and that if Kia wanted to launch a pickup, it would have launched the product by now. Kia Australia had pitched for a pickup four years ago, given that the body style is Australia’s best-selling car accounting for 20 percent of overall sales. Kia had forecast it could sell 20,000 pickups a year in Australia.
However, strong reasons are holding Kia back from launching a pickup currently. The first is that unlike the Santa Cruz, which is based on the Tucson’s unibody platform, a Kia pickup targeting the Australian customer needs ruggedness and 4WD capability, as rivals include ladder-frame based Toyota Hilux and the die-hard Ford Ranger. Kia does not have access to a ladder-frame chassis, and the one ladder-frame product it sells (Kia Mojave) is left-hand drive only and an old product.
Developing a right-hand drive compatible ladder-frame chassis would cost a lot of money. With the transition to electric vehicles and new manufacturers like Rivian and Tesla paving the way for electric truck models, Kia would instead develop an electric pickup from scratch for this application.
Answering Autocar.co.uk in 2021, Kia’s design head Karim Habib said he would welcome a pickup with “open arms,” stating that he believed even in the U.S., despite loyalty to existing brands, new opportunities are opening up.
Before venturing into new segments where they have no experience, Kia must introduce zero-emission alternatives to the bread earners like Forte, Sportage, Telluride, and Optima. According to JD Power, 78.5 percent of the estimated retail sales in the U.S. auto market (of new vehicles) were SUVs and pickups (trucks) in 2021.
Featured image: TopElectricSUV.com’s rendering of a Kia electric pickup truck derived from the Hyundai Santa Cruz.