Kia Soul EV's top market will be U.S.

Company targets 5,000 worldwide sales per year

A Soul EV gets a charge. The model is to arrive in U.S. showrooms in the second half of this year. Photo credit: HANS GREIMEL
Kia Soul EV
Global sales goal: 5,000 units annually
Battery: 27 kilowatt-hour lithium ion polymer
Range: 92 miles
Recharge time: 24 hours w/ 120-volt charger, less than 5 hours w/ 240-volt
Initial U.S. markets: California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Maryland
Source: Kia Motors Corp.

HWASEONG, South Korea -- Kia Motors Corp. aims to sell 5,000 electric units of its boxy Soul subcompact a year worldwide. Kia expects the United States to be the Soul EV's biggest market.

The Soul EV, which went on sale April 14 in South Korea, will hit U.S. showrooms in the second half of the year. Initially in the United States, it will be sold only in California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

Sim Hyun-sung, director of Hyundai Motor Group's eco-vehicle performance development group, did not offer a U.S. sales share of the 5,000 target. But he said the United States will be the car's biggest market because of the Soul EV's size and generous incentives, as well as increased exposure for electric vehicles thanks to stringent emissions standards.

Differing paths

Kia's first EV to be sold stateside marks a division of labor of sorts for Hyundai Motor Group. While Kia forges ahead with battery-powered EVs, corporate stablemate Hyundai develops hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

"The staggered approach to the technology launches allows us not to put all our eggs in one basket," Kia spokesman Michael Choo said. "It's a way of testing each technology on a global scale. We take this electric drivetrain very serious as an engine of future growth."

The Soul EV drivetrain, powered by a 27 kilowatt-hour lithium ion polymer battery, was developed at Hyundai Motor Group's sprawling r&d center outside Seoul, which works on the joint technology underpinning all Kia and Hyundai brand vehicles.

The Soul EV zooms from 0 to 62 mph in 11.2 seconds, Kia says. Photo credit: HANS GREIMEL

Kia brought most of the component development in-house, including the 81-kilowatt motor, battery pack assembly, control systems and cooling technology. It left battery cell development to an outside supplier, SK Innovation Co.

The Hyundai-Kia strategy of outsourcing cells allows the group to play the field without overcommitting to a single supplier and its technology, Sim said. The approach differs from that of Japanese rivals such as Nissan and Honda, which often form joint ventures with electronics companies to develop and produce their own cells.


"We already have well-developed, very competitive suppliers," Sim said.

The biggest challenge for Sim and his team has been, and remains, maximizing battery life and containing cost.

Because of the battery, the Soul EV is 330 pounds heavier than its gasoline counterpart. Kia chose the Soul as its EV nameplate, Sim said, because its boxy proportions optimize interior space in an otherwise compact package.

Kia's lithium ion polymer battery ekes out extra range because it has 30 to 40 percent better energy density than other EV batteries on the market, he said.

Kia also developed a more efficient heating and air conditioning unit that draws less energy from the battery. It uses a heat pump system that harnesses waste heat and a scheduled ventilation system that allows the car to preheat or precool while it is still plugged in, further reducing the drain on the battery.

The Soul EV's range is rated 92 miles in the United States.

The balance between weight and power gives the Soul EV a 0 to 62 mph time of 11.2 seconds, which Sim said just beats the rival Nissan Leaf EV's 11.6 seconds.

Kia hasn't announced U.S. pricing. In South Korea, the Soul EV stickers for 42.5 million won, or about $41,300 at current exchange rates. But incentives of as much as $22,350 cut the cost by more than half. The battery accounts for 40 percent of the Soul EV's total cost.

Sim said the car's limited range and high price mean most buyers probably will opt for a Soul EV as a second car, not their primary vehicle.

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