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Kia to start building Soul EV next month

A battery-powered version of the Kia Soul compact car is on display at a hotel in Hwaseong, South Korea. Photo credit: REUTERS

UPDATED: 3/1/14 10:02 am ET -- correction

Editor's note: The headline on an earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the timing of the Kia Soul EV launch. It has been corrected.

HWASEONG, South Korea (Reuters) -- Kia Motors said it will start building a battery-powered version of its Soul compact in Korea next month. The car will be Hyundai-Kia's first battery-powered EV export, with destinations including the United States and Europe.

For this year, the global sales target is 5,000 Soul EVs, said Cho Yong-won, vice president of Kia's Domestic Marketing Group.

In Korea, the Soul EV will cost about half of its 42 million won ($39,400) price tag after government subsidies, similar to the higher-end model of the gasoline version.

The car can run up to 148 km (92 miles) per 24- to 33-minute fast charge or 4 hours on slow charge.

Hyundai, like Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp., has long concentrated on fuel cell vehicles powered by electricity generated using hydrogen, touting their longer driving range and shorter refill times.

But like Toyota, Hyundai is expanding its offering by also investing in battery-powered cars -- the staple green offering of Kia.

"There is no clear direction about which eco-friendly cars will win. We are dividing the roles of Hyundai and Kia, with Hyundai launching fuel cell cars and Kia focusing on electric cars," said Senior Vice President Lee Ki-sang, who leads the eco-friendly car divisions of both Hyundai and Kia.

"But the time will come when Kia will introduce a fuel-cell car. Hyundai is also preparing to launch a (battery-powered) electric car in 2016."

Zero-emission vehicles are likely to become a more frequent sight as governments devise environment-friendly initiatives. California, for instance, requires that automakers produce a certain percentage of zero-emission vehicles as part of their overall fleet or buy credits from manufacturers who have produced more.

Kia, 34 percent owned by Hyundai, has favored battery-powered cars because they can be charged at home as well as at charging stations. Fuel cell cars must be refilled with hydrogen only at filling stations.

So far, a lack of charging stations and relatively short driving ranges, as well as high prices resulting from the cost of batteries, has kept the battery-powered EV market niche.

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