Kia is preparing to roll out a battery-powered version of the latest-generation Soul crossover next year.
Michael Sprague, Kia’s vice president of marketing communication, would not say when the Korean company planned to put the new EV on sale nor when it would be unveiled, however.
“We plan to make news at all four major auto shows, L.A., Detroit, Chicago and New York,” Sprague hinted. However, the Los Angeles Auto Show has gained a reputation in recent years as the place for launching “green” vehicles such as the battery-electric version of the Chevrolet Spark unveiled there last year.
Kia showed an EV concept vehicle dubbed the Ray during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last January. The Ray is now being test marketed in Kia’s home market of South Korea where the smaller sibling of Hyundai has built more than 2,500 for use by government agencies. The Ray EV has a range up of roughly 86 miles with fast-charging in as little as 25 minutes.
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For the EV launch next year, Kia plans to use the new version of the Soul “urban passenger vehicle” just getting ready to go on sale. The battery version will be offered in a handful of select markets. California is certain to be the primary target for the vehicle. Regulators there have set strict mandates for so-called Zero-Emissions Vehicles, or ZEVs, and those makers who don’t meet their sales targets face the prospect of being locked out of what is the single largest market for automobiles in the U.S.
That has led most major automakers, including General Motors, Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, Ford Motor Co. and Mercedes-Benz, to bring limited-volume edition electric vehicles to the West Coast over the past year. Critics have dubbed many of these “compliance cars,” contending they’re only in production to meet the California requirements.
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Whether there is a real market for battery-based vehicles remains to be seen. Even the most successful products are selling in relatively modest numbers – Tesla just ramping up production of the Model S to around 5,000 per quarter while Nissan recently boosted output of the Leaf battery-electric vehicle to meet sales that have reached around 2,000 per month across the United States, BMW is preparing to launch an all-electric model in the U.S. in 2014. And Kia’s Korean partner Hyundai recently confirmed it is developing an EV for the U.S. market, as well.
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Sprague said the Kia Soul remains one of the Korean carmaker’s most popular products. An all-electric variant is a natural extension of the quirky vehicle. More details about the Soul EV’s powertrain, range, fuel economy and packaging, as well as the maker’s marketing strategy, remain to be seen. But revisions meant to increase range, such as improve aerodynamics, are expected.
“The Soul EV will further demonstrate Kia’s engineering capabilities as well as our commitment to producing vehicles with reduced environmental footprints,” said Orth Hedrick, executive director of product planning with Kia Motor America.
The maker noted during a media drive of the 2014 Soul update that 85% of the little crossover’s materials can be recycled at the end of the vehicle’s life.
Kia Motors was recently ranked by Interbrand as one of the “50 Best Global Green Brands,” and the Soul EV will be the second alternative-fuel Kia vehicle to be offered for sale in the U.S. The Optima Hybrid was introduced in 2011 and will get a number of powertrain refinements for the upcoming model-year to improve drivability, the maker said.
Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.
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