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Insight: UK EV retail market not ‘dead’ says Kia CEO

The UK market for consumer buyers of electric vehicles (EVs) is not dead, according to the head of Kia UK.
2402 kia dealer



The UK market for consumer buyers of electric vehicles (EVs) is not dead, according to the head of Kia UK.

Recent months have seen much negative publicity for retail EV sales and figures indicating that the fleet market is driving the growth of EV use in the UK, with consumer sales declining. But speaking exclusively to Motor Trade News, Kia UK President and CEO Paul Philpott painted a more optimistic picture.

“I actually think the negative headlines were worse 18 months ago than they are now – if we wind back to 2022 EV demand was strong across retail and fleet,” Philpott said. “We had very full order banks for both EV6 and Niro EV.

“Then there were national news stories of Tesla queues at Gretna Green services on Boxing Day, at a time when they were likely queueing for the fuel pumps too. This started the negative publicity – but the charging network wasn’t what it is today and there were lots of questionmarks then.

“What’s changed is that the ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) mandate has come in so there’s a bit more pressure for everyone – in year one of the ZEV mandate (manufacturers) have to hit a 22 per cent zero-emission vehicle mix, though there are some offsets over the first three years giving the whole industry something of a transition.”

Speaking at the UK launch of the entry-level EV9 SUV (launch report here) Philpott added that with a requirement for sales to be 80 per cent EV by 2030, “only six years away”, the focus would continue to be on increasing sales across the market. “Whatever the sentiment is right now, we are going to keep going with EVs, they will become the vast majority of what we sell by 2030.”

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Kia CEO Paul Philpott sees positives in the EV retail market.

Once in they stay in

A further positive indication of the future for EVs, Philpott believes, is that consumers who move into them from combustion or plug-in hybrid cars never go back. “If you have a home charger and perhaps access to one at work then 95 per cent of your travel is sorted – it’s only those one-off journeys to go and visit the great aunt in Carlisle that you need to think about.

“You have to plan ahead a bit more with an EV, decide where you are going to stop to recharge. But charging speeds are increasing all the time – you can go from 10 to 80 per cent in around 20 minutes which is just time for a cup of coffee, and when you are driving 200-300 miles you should be having a break.”

According to Philpott Kia is not seeing the drop-off in retail EV demand that is being reported across the industry. “Last year 16 per cent of our cars sold were EV and we sold a record 17,700. This year we have a target of getting to 20 per cent and right now we are on track for that.

“Clearly with fleet strong benefit-in-kind tax incentives are driving the level of demand. But last year around 45 per cent of EV6s we sold were to retail, and around 30 per cent of Niro which being an SUV will see more fleet demand. And early indications on EV9 are about 40 per cent of sales being to retail – we are in early days with this car and obviously appealing to a very different audience, as Range Rover, Audi and Mercedes customers are considering Kia for the first time.”

Carrot not stick needed

Philpott does agree, however, that some incentive needs to be provided by the Government to help retail buyers make the EV switch. “Currently the government feels it can get to EV adoption with a big stick rather than a carrot and that doesn’t feel like a fair balance, at a time when we are all trying to drive EV take-up and therefore environmental protection for the future. There are incentives in place for company car drivers but not for retail customers.

“We are right behind the SMMT’s call for a reduction in VAT on EV sales. We all remember the heady days of 2009-10 when a £2,000 scrappage allowance, of which the government funded half, we the other half, generated lots of extra sales which created VAT, so it was self-funding.

“We can’t have a scrappage scheme but a relatively small handout from Government will switch people quite quickly. The easiest way without it costing money is to reduce the 20 per cent VAT rate on EVs, for a limited period, and I think that would generate significantly greater retail demand.”

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New vehicles such as the EV9 have seen positive retail demand according to Kia.

Invest in the message

Just as important, according to Philpott, is for manufacturers to invest in the EV message. “We are advertising EV6 on TV right now through March, and then in April and May we will be on TV with EV9.

“It’s really difficult to justify a £2-3 million investment on TV when your full-year target for EV9 sales is 3750 units. But it’s a far bigger message, about EVs being the future, our future. By 2027 we will have nine EVs in our range and part of that investment in EV6 and EV9 is in building a message – if I want to consider an EV I need to look at a Kia.”

A central part of making this message work will be a buy-in from the brand’s dealers. “At our National Dealer Conference in January we talked to them about having a belief in and expertise in electric vehicles. Not all customers are ready to buy an EV yet, but if at least you spend five minutes talking about EV with your customers who are today choosing hybrid or petrol, when they come back in two or three years time to change out of their car they will have recognised that you are an expert in EV. You’ve started building the momentum.”

in February Kia officially opened its new Training Academy in Derby, which according to Philpott will be a centre of excellence for electric vehicles. “We are investing in sales team motivation in EVs, adding the knowledge and knocking over the myths, while recognising that today not every customer is an EV customer.”

And driving the growth in EV sales, he added, is the ZEV mandate. “No-one wants to face fines and if we are not close to 22 per cent EV this year the only way to get there is selling EVs at a massive discount, which we won’t do, or reducing our overall volume which also we won’t do.

“We are working hard at EV sales – and we have retail customers coming and buying them.”

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Andrew Charman

Andrew Charman has been a motoring journalist for more than 30 years, writing about vehicles, technology and the industry. He has won several accolades including for his retail industry coverage, and judged major retail awards.

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