Kia Says ICE Could Survive in Electrified Automotive Future

Electrification of vehicle powertrains will alter depending on consumer needs and market segments and many will still employ ICE technology.

That’s the view of Kia Motors Europe’s head of powertrain Michael Winkler who TU-Automotive caught up with at 2019 Geneva International Motor Show. In fact, Winkler believes all the current powertrain options will survive in the foreseeable future governed by consumer demand.

Speaking on Kia’s show stand that boasted a line-up of models all sporting some level of electrification, Winkler said: “I do see electrification across all vehicle segments because there are those different levels of electrification. You see the products here starting from the mild hybrids with 48-volt electrification where you replace the starter/generator with a 48-volt ignition and we can recuperate quite a lot of energy through deceleration, is the first step of electrification.”

Winkler said the next step up the electrification ladder to full hybrid will attract consumers who require the potential for zero emissions travel especially in urban areas with clean-air regulations. He explained: “We step into the next level of voltage with the full hybrid powertrains, above 200 volts where we can recoup even more energy and with the plug-in we can have an all-electric range of about 50kms (30 miles) and that makes it interesting for city driving where you can locally drive emission free with only a moderate battery installed in the vehicle.”

Vehicle cost will be the main influencer of consumer choice with full BEV models said Winkler. “Kia and Hyundai, we have two battery ranges to meet different customer needs. Not everyone needs a range of 400kms (240 miles) – if you have a look at studies of normal driving the figure is usually around 50kms for standard daily driving. Naturally, battery cost is the dominant part of a battery electric vehicle so it makes sense to have two different battery packs with the 39.2kWh and the 60kWh. This takes into account the different needs of the customer. Of course, we will see different levels of electrification in different vehicle segments simply owing to the cost of the batteries needed.”

ICE has a future

With all this talk of electric powertrains, advances in fuel technology could open the door for indefinite deployment of ICE powered vehicles, said Winkler. “The next step in fuels are e-fuels and this might change the view on combustion engines because if the fuel is not a fossil fuel and is made from clean energy from solar or wind energy what would be the reason not to use the combustion engine?”

Even without new fuels, the market will still see ICE technology on our streets at least in the medium-term. Winkler explained: “I’m pretty sure for the next five to 10 years we will still combustion engines in the market and here we have to look at the infrastructure for battery electric vehicles. Not everybody has a garage with a plug at home and many people have to park on the streets. So, today, we don’t have the infrastructure to charge the entire fleet of vehicles. On top of that, the electric grids are not ready for this.

“However, while the combustion engine will survive, I’m 100% sure it will be electrified. If we look at market predictions for the near term, 48-volt will be the major technology, followed by the hybrids and plug-in hybrids. So, the powertrain of today is being electrified but the powertrain of tomorrow will definitely all be electrified.”

Lurking in the growing shadow of the BEV revolution, hydrogen fuel cell technology is facing an uncertain future. Yet, Winkler believes it could feature in the longer term particularly in the premium segment. He said: “Hyundai Kia is into hydrogen fuel cell with the ix35 Fuel Cell we were the first producer on the market and now with the second generation in the shape of the Nexo is a dedicated vehicle and Kia will have one also by 2020. So hydrogen is one part of the future but there are two challenges – one is the infrastructure and the other is the market volume of production is not yet as much as other powertrain vehicles and this is down to cost.

“Every major new technology enters the market from the premium segment and then, as the volumes rise, you can bring it to other segments. At the moment it is quite expensive but we do have our fuel stacks in the production line and have a mass production approach to its future.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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