Kia Electric Vehicle
When the Kia Soul EV hit the market in October 2014, it promised a fresh alternative to the small hatchback electric cars on the market. It offered a slightly larger cabin wrapped in a charming iconoclastic design. More importantly, its 27 kilowatt-hour battery pack provided about a dozen more miles on a charge than what the the Nissan LEAF and Ford Focus Electric deliver. The electric Soul’s EPA rating for range is 93 miles. Nonetheless, Kia Soul EV sales averaged below 100 units a month in 2015, placing it in the back of the plug-in pack —even behind the discontinued Cadillac ELR.
Yet, according to report from UK’s Autocar, Hyundai-Kia is not giving up on the Soul EV. The publication offers this single point about the Soul, which is getting a facelift for 2017: the next EV version will have longer range. More details are not provided.
While consumer sales of the Soul EV are not newsworthy, the vehicle recently garnered press coverage because it’s being used in Hyundai’s research regarding autonomous vehicles. Soul EVs, equipped with advanced assisted-driving technologies, are being tested on Nevada roads. In fact, most autonomous driving programs use electric vehicles as test cars—portending the time when fleets of self-driving EVs are dotting the US landscape. By 2020, Kia plans to introduce such features as traffic jam assist, automated braking and autonomous valet parking—followed by fully autonomous cars in about 2030.
Putting the Soul EV in self-driving test fleets is obviously not enough to make it a legitimate player in the plug-in market. Expanding to multiple states hasn’t done the trick either.
Poor sales of the Kia Soul EV were not helped when distribution expanded in 2015 from California alone, to Oregon, Washington, Georgia, Texas and Hawaii. In fall 2015, four more states were added, with about 20 dealerships in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland starting to offer the electric car. Yet, Kia Soul EV sales have essentially remained flat.
A future increase in range in the Kia Soul EV, say to 100 or even 120 miles, could be more effective—but will need to be accompanied by a much more aggressive production and sales campaign. Otherwise, the Soul EV will be dismissed as purely a research or compliance vehicle—and overlooked by consumers who might otherwise see the Kia electric car as a legitimate alternative.
When I drove the Soul EV for a week in fall 2014, I found its aggressive one-pedal braking, smart EV gauges and standard DC Quick Charging to be smartly designed—setting a high standard for affordable EVs. A good electric is a terrible thing to waste.
Autocar only offered a single line about what we might expect from a new Kia Soul EV later this year. Let’s hope that the Kia is being coy, holding back information about it potential big plans for much better range and, more importantly, a sincere sales effort.