Kia follows GM lead, touting new logo, sustainable mission

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
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Kia Motors Corp. showed off it new logo tattoo this week. All the cool kids are doing it.

The South Korea-based brand says its black-and-white logo symbolizes the company’s transformation to a mobility company with a higher moral purpose focused on sustainability and transportation solutions. The corporate rebranding echoes a similar logo change by General Motors Co. earlier this month. Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Moor Corp. and Volkswagen AG have also recently modernized their logos.

Kia's new logo and slogan, "Movement that inspires," ushers in a new era of EVs and autonomous vehicles.

Kia is dropping “Motors” from its name to become simply Kia Corp., signifying its intent to move beyond auto manufacturing to focus on a future of “flexible, environmentally conscious, and integrated forms of transportation.”

“At Kia, we believe that transportation, mobility, and movement represent a human right,” CEO Ho Sung Song said. “Our vision is to create sustainable mobility solutions for consumers, communities, and societies globally.”

Seven new electric vehicles by 2027 will headline Kia’s “Movement That Inspires” mobility campaign, part of a $25 billion corporate investment in new products. Kia’s red oval logo is gone — replaced by a more aggressive, black and white font.

“We will see a bigger transformation in the next decade than we have seen in the last 75 years,” Arturo Martins, Kia’s Senior Vice President for Brand & Customer Experience, said of the 76-year old manufacturer. “This is a transformation to electric and autonomous cars. Electrification is an inevitability.”

Similarly, GM’s “Everybody In” campaign is part of the sweeping plan to spend $27 billion through 2025 bringing battery-powered and autonomous vehicles to market under the company’s new, lower-case logo shaped like an electric plug.

Consumers, however, have been hesitant to embrace battery-powered cars as less than 2% of new car sales in the U.S., for example, are pure EVs. Only Norway, with massive subsidies, has seen substantial EV adoption.

Kia says its new logo will first appear in the U.S. market on the gas-powered, 2022 Kia Carnival minivan coming later this year. The Carnival’s V-6 engine is shared by Kia’s hottest U.S. seller, the Georgia-made Telluride SUV.

Industry insiders say the rush to EVs is being driven not by consumers, but by government mandates as most major governments — particularly China and the European Union — are using new regulations to push EV drivetrains.

Key to Kia’s growth are commercial customers. The brand says so-called “purpose-built vehicles” (PBVs) are expected to grow five-fold by 2030 in e-commerce and car-sharing services. Bespoke Kia PBVs will be tailored to meet the needs of car-sharing services and fleet delivery vehicles.

Predictions of EV adoption have overestimated customer acceptance. In 2011, the Obama Administration predicted 1 million EV sales in the U.S. by 2015, with GM’s pioneering Chevy Volt leading the way. Last year, EV sales were about 250,000 units and the poor-selling Volt was retired.

Kia’s initial goals are more modest. The Korean automaker says it expects global EV sales of 500,000 vehicles by 2026. In 2019 (the last year data is available), the company sold 2.8 million vehicles worldwide.

But manufacturers are making big bets for the long haul. Rather than adopting existing chassis to use batteries as in the past, automakers are making separate “skateboard” platforms for full-line EVs. Companies like GM, Tesla Inc., and Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz are investing in battery production. Kia and corporate cousin Hyundai are teaming with Korea’s largest chemical manufacturer, LG Chem, on battery technology.

Kia said its EVs will share a platform with Hyundai and the first vehicle will be similar to Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 SUV. The Ioniq line of hybrid and plugin vehicles sold 13,570 in the US last year.

Autonomous  development, too, has lagged expectations, with major automakers delaying 2020 rollouts.

Norway, which imports all of its vehicles, has committed to electrification and other governments are studying its subsidy model. EVs were some 60% of Norway sales last year with consumer incentives that include: exemption from 25% value-added (VAT) tax on new car purchases; exemption from emission fees, parking fees, road tolls, car ferry fees; and cut-rate insurance.

Consequently, a gas-powered VW Golf costs about $57,000. Its electric peer, the e-Golf, costs $30,200.

“Take away government mandates, subsidies and other incentives, and EVs are a steady 0.1% of the automotive market — whether we’re talking about Laos, Louisiana, or Luxembourg,” said Anton Wahlman, Seeking Alpha auto analyst and investor.

VW announced its remade logo in late 2019 with strikingly similar buzzwords to Kia and GM. "The new brand design marks the start of the new era for Volkswagen," said board member Jürgen Stackmann. "The brand is undergoing a fundamental transformation towards a future with a neutral emissions balance for everyone.”

Like GM’s car-sharing ventures Cruise and (now defunct) Maven, Kia is also diversifying its business to offer green, autonomous mobility services in major global cities. Kia plans to roll out its first EV product for the U.S. market in the first quarter.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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