How Kia Soul EV Stacks Up to Electric Competition

By · February 10, 2014

Kia Soul EV

Kia Motors last week unveiled the 2015 Soul EV at the Chicago Auto Show. It is scheduled to go on sale this fall in California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Pricing has not yet been announced.

By the time the Soul EV goes on sale, consumers will have no fewer than nine small relatively affordable all-electric cars to consider, including the: Chevy Spark EV; Fiat 500e; Ford Focus Electric; Honda Fit EV; Mitsubishi i-MiEV; Nissan LEAF; Smart ED; and the Volkswagen E-Golf. Small luxury EVs from BMW and Mercedes will also be available.

This begs the question: What is Kia bringing to the market that is not already available? On a technology level, it's hard to find anything novel in Kia’s Chicago announcement. While the Soul EV’s 27 kilowatt-hour battery pack is slightly larger than competitors—and therefore will likely grant a dozen or so more miles of everyday range than, say, the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus Electric—those few extra miles are not likely to make Kia’s first electric car truly stand out from the crowd.

This is especially true because the Soul EV will not use a liquid-based battery temperature management system, which has become the standard best practice for ensuring optimal range during very hot and cold weather. Consumers have become accustomed to hearing advertised electric car mileage of between 80 and 100 miles from a full battery pack. The Soul EV will be no different.

For car shoppers putting a premium on driving fun—in other words, high torque and maximum horsepower—the Soul EV’s 81.4-kW, 109-horsepower electric motor is also unlikely to steal customers. It's quite decent, but right in line with the leading competing small electric cars, with the exception of the Chevy Spark EV, which delivers an impressive 400 pound-feet of torque.

Other bullet points in Kia’s press release regarding the electric Soul—such as the use of driving modes, the availability of a CHAdeMo quick charge port, and the offer of free charging at Kia dealerships—are also old news.

Kia Soul EV

Perhaps where the Kia Soul EV will truly stand out to represent a legitimate alternative for EV buyers is in the platform itself. While the Soul’s looks are certainly not everybody's cup of tea, the gas-powered Soul has earned legions of fans. It has an undeniable quirky charm (while steering clear of the eco-geek gizmo design found in other battery-powered cars). Interior visibility is vast. There is ample cargo and passenger room. The overall package combines a small hip design, with a generous amount of everyday utility.

Maybe the electric car market has matured to the point where the EV technology that used to seem so extraordinary is now becoming more understood and commonplace. Looking forward, what will win customers for new EVs is not about electric motors, batteries, thermal management systems, and quick charge protocols—but the same old stuff that makes the difference for shoppers of any automobile: brand, driving dynamics, reliability, utility, style, and personality. And as far as those things are concerned, the 2015 Kia Soul EV is a pretty cool electric car.


· · 4 years ago

I see the aero improvements they have done: the blocked upper grill, and the smooth flat wheels. Did they also put a smooth belly pan on it?

Do we know anything about the regen scheme(s)? Are the seats heated, and what is the heater/defroster?

· · 4 years ago

"consumers will have no fewer than nine small relatively affordable all-electric cars to consider"

In California, you mean. Exactly 2 of those are available in most states. I know the i-Miev is allegedly available in 50 states - good luck trying to find one.

Seriously, though, if you're looking for a way to stand out from the pack try selling to the non-CARB states.

· · 4 years ago

Red Leaf: Well, the I-MiEv is/was available in all states(I am driving one in SE PA, so I know). Also, I believe the Smart EV as well as the VW are not compliance cars and are meant to be sold all over(VW, once it is formally introduced). But your point is valid, that most of these cars have no real significance to those who live outside of the 8 Zero Emmission states.
Brad: Since we have read prior stories about the Kia dealerships installing ACQC units, I have to believe(want to believe?) that there are plans to take the car beyond just the minimum, since Kia could have done what GM did with the Spark EV,which is to effectively ignore FC options(by using SAE combo). Also, the extra dozen miles of range is maybe a bigger plus than you suggest. As you can see, I am driving an I-MiEV, so being able to drive upwards of 100 miles(optimistically I know) is a significant upgrade.

· · 4 years ago

Good points, guys. However, between the fact that California is by far the largest car market in the US, that the mandate is in place here, and that it's among the places where consumers are most likely to adopt EVs, it will continue to be where carmakers place most of their electric efforts.

I need to investigate how many shoppers in other places who are clamoring for an EV can't get one, or at least the one they want.

But my main point stands: Kia is offering essentially the same technology as the competition, but wrapped in the package of the Soul. Until we see new EVs with range in the 125+ mile territory, it's mostly the platform/looks that will differentiate from among the pure EVs.

· · 4 years ago

Brad: Agree!

· · 4 years ago

If your state does not have a ZEV mandate - agitate! Writing to your state legislators works. 7 states have adopted California's ZEV rules (or variations thereof). No reason the others can't also.

· · 4 years ago

New York has a ZEV mandate, but they have a loophole which allows the company to count sales in other ZEV states. As a result, we have precious few options. I think the only BEVs you can get here today are a Leaf, Focus or FitEV. I have a friend who tried rather hard to get a Rav4EV, but Toyota was making the process as difficult/expensive for him as possible.

So yes, ZEV mandates help, but many states have a loophole that allows car companies to only sell in California.

· · 4 years ago

Yes, that's the "ZEV travel" provision, and credits can travel to and from California. But if that's a provision the citizens of the state don't like, because they can't buy the EVs they want, that can be agitated too. Companies can make campaign contributions and contribute to PACs, but they can't vote!

· · 4 years ago

"Agitate!" Right. Because GM is quaking in its boots about the possibility of losing access to the New Mexico market. Give me a break.

Compliance cars are crap, and no amount of "where carmakers place most of their electric efforts" weasel-wording can gloss over the fact that cars not sold in all markets are obviously not being engineered for profitable mass production - they're just a regulatory dodge to maintain access to the CA market. But if EV buyers there insist on limiting their business to Volts, i-MiEVs, LEAFs, and other models sold nationwide, that pressure would be very real very quickly, far more than folks in flyover country picketing their state legislatures (and for those who have time for such fun and games, god bless ya, but some of us are working for a living). Annoying indifferent politicians is far less effective man for man than a straight-up boycott of compliance specials by actual California buyers.

So you can say "Agitate!" to me all you want - and I'll say right back "Boycott!" I know damn well which advice would be more effective if followed.

· · 4 years ago

"Perhaps where the Kia Soul EV will truly stand out to represent a legitimate alternative for EV buyers is in the platform itself."

Well, yes, perhaps what kind of car it is might actually matter, something that Ford seemed to forget while loading up the trunks of Focus Electrics and Fusion PHEVs with batteries, or Chevy while reducing passenger space in a Cruze chassis to sub-Yaris levels. Even the reasonably well-received LEAF (presented as a purpose-built EV) compromises cargo space with its battery placement.

It's no small thing that Kia specifically designed the 2014 Soul to unobtrusively accommodate the planned EV model's battery pack (under the floor, like a Tesla or i-MiEV). That's honest nuts and bolts design work, the stuff of grown-up commitment to making a salable product. It probably deserves more than the implied "No 200 mile range, so what's the big deal?"

· · 4 years ago

I stand with you, vike. Even here in New York, the prospect of our legislature actually closing such a loophole is almost laughable. I do petition the government, but I'm met with cookie-cutter responses of "this is what my policy is." It's also impossible to just say "vote them out" because there are a plethora of issues tied to each politician. The only way to get a politician in office who agrees with you 100% is to get elected yourself!

Think about this - even if every EV buyer petitioned the state, it would be a small percentage of the 20+ million voters. But if every EV buyer in CA boycotted the purchase of compliance cars, it would be 100% of their market!

· · 4 years ago

"But if every EV buyer in CA boycotted the purchase of compliance cars, it would be 100% of their market!"

If buyers in CA boycotted all the compliance EVs in the hope that automakers would get the message and produce something better, they would fail. The automakers would just say "Look, nobody wants EVs!". Luckily we have Tesla and Nissan to show that EVs can sell in significant numbers. I don't know how we as consumers can expand the market for EVs nation-wide. CARB just doesn't care what happens in the rest of the country. Their mission is to clean up California's air. It's up to other states to use the tools at their own disposal to drive automakers to sell and service EVs in their states. It may be that mandates are the only thing that can successfully motivate automakers.

· · 4 years ago

@Mike I,

"If buyers in CA boycotted all the compliance EVs in the hope that automakers would get the message and produce something better, they would fail. The automakers would just say "Look, nobody wants EVs!". Luckily we have Tesla and Nissan to show that EVs can sell in significant numbers."

You refuted your own point. The other automakers CANNOT say that nobody wants EVs because Tesla and Nissan are already proving them wrong. The message would be loud and clear - nobody wants half-hearted EVs, when quality options can be had from automakers willing to make the effort. Of course the other automakers can simply pay the fines or buy credits from those making a difference today while they continue to push to get their Fuel-Cell vehicles out.

· · 4 years ago

There is a difference between a "half-hearted" EV and a "compliance" EV. For example, Toyota engineers did a pretty good job working with Tesla to produce the RAV4 EV. The main thing it's missing is a Quick Charge port. The problem is that Toyota corporate is not willing to sell it outside California and is openly hostile to owners who take it out of state. So, it is a compliance car. I personally think it would sell pretty well in places like OR, WA, CO, GA and even the Northeast.

Honestly, automaker lobbying groups are STILL trying to say "nobody" wants EVs. They used that argument with CARB just last year to try to relax the ZEV mandate yet again. Luckily CARB staff knows better.

· · 4 years ago

The Rav4EV is half-hearted in the sense that Toyota is not serious about making and selling an EV. Sure, I have heard good things from owners about the car itself, but Toyota not only does not want to sell it, they actively want to not sell it. Given the chance, it would sell quite well in upstate NY. I know of a few people who would buy one if they could.

· · 4 years ago

I think the main point about the RAV4 EV is that it's a financial train wreck; if the goal was to create a product that could be profitably sold at a price customers were willing to pay, then the Toyota engineers working with Tesla did a TERRIBLE job.

But hey, not really, because that was absolutely NOT their goal. Toyota didn't price these econojeeps at $50k for fun - it was a price that held their losses to a tolerable level, because shipping RAV4 gliders to Tesla for installation of more or less hand-built electric drivetrains and control systems is a pretty freakin' expensive proposition. Being forced to sell them for $40k (and less) would have been devastating if it weren't for the fact that so few will ever be built that the losses will be minuscule in relation to Toyota's overall California sales. Toyota wants to build only the minimum number of EVs required to get CARB off their backs; selling even one more would just lose money to no purpose. THAT's what makes it a compliance car. The fact that it's actually a pretty crummy vehicle, very likely the least reliable Toyota AND the least reliable EV on the U.S. market, just adds insult to injury.

By contrast, Tesla and Nissan want to sell their EVs everywhere to all comers, meeting whatever demand there may be, and clearly preferring higher sales to improve economies of scale. That's a different strategy altogether, and one that EV enthusiasts should be supporting with their dollars. I don't give a damn how cute or peppy the 500e is - it's a compliance-only piece of crap. CARB is accomplishing nothing by allowing such dodges. I think we'd actually be better off if non-EV automakers bought credits from companies that cared about selling EVs.

As for the i-MiEV, well, if anyone can figure out what the hell Mitsubishi's up to, please let us know.

· · 4 years ago

"shipping RAV4 gliders to Tesla for installation of more or less hand-built electric drivetrains and control systems is a pretty freakin' expensive proposition."

This is not correct. The Tesla parts get shipped to Woodstock, Ontario Canada where Toyota installs the parts on their regular RAV4 production line. Other than that, you're spot on. I wonder how many years it will take for Toyota to engineer a BEV that they can produce and turn a profit. Will that be sooner than a profitable FCEV? Who knows.

· · 4 years ago

Thanks for the correction/clarification, Mike - I knew who supplied what, but never bothered to find out where it came together. As you note, regardless of how and where final assembly is done, the problem remains the same - the RAV4 EV was not engineered to be economically viable. And to Toyota's embarrassment, Nissan and Tesla have proven that outcome was hardly inevitable.

The scenario you describe does seem to introduce a different set of problems, though. If Toyota hasn't already built all the RAV4 EVs they intend to, if they don't have them sitting in a warehouse or back lot somewhere, where are they storing the old parts to build them? For that matter, while I realize modern assembly lines are more flexible than those of the past, I have to think doing final assembly on RAV4 EVs on the Woodstock assembly line has gotten more complicated since the ICE version of the vehicle went to its next generation. For that reason, if the EVs are not all done and mothballed somewhere, I'd guess the gliders at least are more or less fully built, awaiting hand-fitting of the EV bits when Toyota's ready to dribble some more on to the market. But I really don't know.

· · 4 years ago

There are many variants of Lithium ion chemistries, not all of them require a liquid based thermal management system for passenger car applications.

· · 4 years ago

"Annoying indifferent politicians is far less effective man for man than a straight-up boycott of compliance specials by actual California buyers."

Why would they do that?

Most EV community supporter (myself included) need to understand that the world is far more complex than just early adopters or EV lovers. As long as compliances cars with super good dealers exist in CA, people will buy it. One co worker of mine could care less about EV movement or being green. But he loves the idea of Honda E-Fit b/c he drives 90 miles per day in his commute and the $$$ saved in fuel alone will pay for his UNLIMITED mileage lease on the Honda Fit EV.... There are enough buyers in CA to keep those cheap deal compliance cars going....

· · 4 years ago

"There are many variants of Lithium ion chemistries, not all of them require a liquid based thermal management system for passenger car applications."

None of them can handle > 60 deg C without some long term damages. Some are better than the other. But once you get near that temperature, all of them will fail eventually. That temperature can be easily reached if you live in a hot climate combined with DC fast charging and continued charging and hwy driving without liquid cooling....

· · 4 years ago

Auto manufacturer's Oct 19, 2012 request to EPA for waiver from CARB:

"It is highly unlikely that the required infrastructure and the level of consumer demand for ZEVs will be sufficient by MY2018 in either California or in the individual Section 177 States to support the ZEV sales requirements mandated by CARB. EPA should therefore deny, at the present time, California’s waiver request for the ZEV program for these model years. During the interim, Global Automakers and the Alliance believe that California and EPA, with full auto industry participation, should implement a review for the ZEV program similar to the mid-term review process adopted under the federal GHG and CAFE regulations for MYs2017 through 2025."

CARB state coalition - California, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The eight-state coalition will push for the numerical target by 2025, more than doubling California’s 1.5-million-car goal. While California buyers of plug-in hybrids, battery and hydrogen fuel-cell autos get incentives such as rebates, the seven other states didn’t announce specific enticements.

The eight states combined account for 23 percent of U.S. vehicle sales, according to California’s Air Resources Board.

· · 4 years ago

The only way I can see the auto makers (Tesla excepted) ever taking electric cars seriously is if their profits were from ICE cars were threatened. The CARB laws do not sufficiently threaten their profits to make them change their ways of thinking.

The only way I can see that happening is if 'No emission laws' were to be passed into law for cities and in due time Metropolitan areas. City and residential streets would be no emission zones. No exceptions for anybody. Batteries have already proven themselves to be plenty good enough for common localized driving. This I think makes sense because that's where the pollution backs up and where the most traffic is. ICE's could still be used for freeway road trip driving. That's what they're good at!

No emission laws that are equally applied everywhere so no one auto maker has an advantage ,,, this would I think be sufficient motivation to change their thinking. After all ,,, aside from Sex ,,, money is that other great attention getter. If threatening their profits doesn't work then I don't know what will.

· · 4 years ago

The Bollero BlueCar can go 160 miles on a charge. It uses innovative Lithium battery/Super Capacitors together for more range, more regen and less battery stress. I hope they bring it to more places than the one test market in Indianapolis that have are doing now.
Too bad KIA is just doing compliance cars so far. Maybe they will change their mind after the Tesla GEN 3 hit 100,000 units a year in 2017.

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