2018 Kia e-Niro electric SUV.
2018 Kia e-Niro electric SUV.

Kia unveils e-Niro SUV to spark wave of cheap electric cars

KIA plans to add a small SUV to the wave of more affordable electric cars headed for Australia over the next 12 months.

The company is expected to introduce the e-Niro electric SUV in the second half of next year with a range of up to 485km, following its sister brand Hyundai, which will launch its Ioniq electric sedan and an EV version of the Kona small SUV in the coming months.

"(We are) certainly very interested ... we have to go through a process but if we do get it it will be late next year,” says Kia Australia boss Damien Meredith.

If successful, the Kia electric car would likely start from $50,000 and initially be sold in limited numbers.

Kia also restated its position that it is not looking for government hand-outs to help electric cars gain momentum.

"I don't believe in government support,” says Meredith. "I believe the products have to stand on their own two feet,” before adding that the government's role was to help provide infrastructure.

2018 Kia e-Niro electric SUV.

There are a couple of clear signs Kia is optimistic about the introduction of electric cars. All new dealerships will need to install electrc car facilities and technicians will soon begin training for battery-powered vehicles.

The Kia announcement is the latest of a series of developments in the more affordable end of the EV market.

In July, Renault announced that its Zoe electric vehicle was available to retail customers for $47,490, while global partner Nissan is expected to release pricing and specification details for the return of the Leaf electric car in the coming days.

The official word from Kia is that a business case is still being prepared for the local introduction of the e-Niro, but the program has already cleared its two most significant hurdles - vehicle range and price.

2018 Kia e-Niro electric SUV.

Initially local management was concerned that the range of the vehicle wouldn't be enough to tempt buyers, but head office recently announced details of a longer range variant claimed to be capable of 485km on the open road and more than 600km in city driving. Kia Australia is also satisfied with the price they have been able to negotiate for the vehicle.

The new wave of EVs will still be significantly more expensive than their petrol rivals, but are likely to be pitched at less than $50,000.

At the moment, electric vehicles make up a minuscule share of the new car market in Australia, but sales are growing. In the first eight months of the year 887 have been sold, up from 723 last year.

The e-Niro will be offered with two battery packs - a 64kWh unit promising 485 kilometres of range and a cheaper 39.2kWh unit promising 312km range. Kia says that when plugged into a 100kW fast charger, the Niro's battery can be recharged from 20 per cent to 80 per cent in 42 minutes.

2018 Kia e-Niro electric SUV.

The long-distance 64kWh version is powered by an electric motor producing 150kW of power and 395Nm torque. Kia says it will reach 100km/h in 7.8 seconds. The standard 39.2kWh battery pack is matched to a 100kW/395Nm motor and will reach 100km/h in 9.8 seconds.

The SUV will be made in Korea and is expected to go on sale in Europe by the end of this year.

The delayed introduction of the local version is to ensure the dealer network has time to train technicians to handle the unique requirements of servicing and repairing an electric vehicle.

The e-Niro is expected to be followed by another two EVs in the next two years. Unlike overseas, where Kia has sold more than 200,000 hybrid and plug-hybrid e-Niros, Kia Australia will offer only the full EV version.

2018 Kia e-Niro electric SUV.

In an interview earlier in the year local chief operating officer, Damien Meredith, said the brand didn't expect to do big volumes of EVs, which would require government support to become mainstream.

"We're not going to sell thousands of these vehicles straight away but we're taking the EV course rather than anything else. You'll find that we'll have a few EVs in play in three years' time,” he said.

By that time, Mercedes-Benz and Audi will have joined Jaguar, BMW and Tesla in offering luxury EVs in Australia.