Kia Soul EV Coming in 2014, But 120 Miles Range is Unrealistic

By · November 12, 2013

2014 Kia Soul EV in development

2014 Kia Soul EV in development

Kia Motors confirmed yesterday via a press release that in late 2014 it will offer an all-electric version of the Soul, its youth-oriented affordable small car. The first bullet of Kia’s press release said the Soul EV “targets a range of more than 120 miles.” That’s the metric used in many headlines covering the announcement. It looks like Kia has fallen into the trap of over-promising range—based on its announcement that the size of the battery pack will be 27 kilowatt-hours. The 2014 Kia Soul EV is more likely to deliver real-world range of between 90 and 100 miles.

Small EV Battery Sizes

  • Nissan LEAF: 24 kWh
  • Fiat 500e: 24 kWh
  • Ford Focus Electric: 23 kWh
  • BMW i3: 22 kWh
  • Chevy Spark EV: 21 kWh
  • Honda Fit EV: 20 kWh
  • Smart Electric Drive: 17 kWh
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV: 16 kWh

One-hundred miles of range, if the Soul EV can deliver on it, is excellent—considering that the other small EVs in its class offer between about 70 and 85 miles of range. “More than 120 miles of range” will be experienced by few Soul EV drivers.

In the early days of the EV market in 2010 and 2011, Nissan advertised the range of the LEAF, with its 24 kilowatt-hour pack, at 100 miles—only to learn that drivers more commonly get about 80 miles of range (and even less if driven vigorously on the highway). Yes, with considerable restraint, EV drivers can get close to or better than 4 miles per kilowatt-hour of battery capacity. But hyper-focusing on maximum efficiency, and driving a car all the way down to its last electron, is not an enjoyable experience.

Nissan’s marketing now states that the LEAF “can get you 75 miles on a single charge,” based on the EPA’s modest range estimate that utilizes an average between 80 percent and 100 percent of the pack’s capacity. That’s conservative, but mostly accurate, based on my driving experience.

The Kia Soul EV is likely to have about the same curb weight as the LEAF, and will probably not be as aerodynamic. All things being equal, the Kia Soul’s 12.5% bigger battery pack, if it delivers the same degree of increased range compared the LEAF, could push the Soul’s range over the 90-mile mark.

Avoiding Hype

I rely on a general rule of thumb that places average efficiency of an EV—which is vastly more efficient than a gas-powered internal combustion car—at 3.5 miles per kilowatt-hour. That would mean 94.5 miles of range on the Soul’s 27 kWh pack.

Bigger batteries, offered at lower cost, will be the key enabler of longer range, and greater acceptance of electric cars. The Kia Soul’s bigger pack is a definite step in the right direction. So is it’s youth-oriented design, which might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but has been met with market success. Those cute Hamsters on Soul ads have also been effective.

Let’s hope that Kia makes and sells a gazillion Soul EVs. But marketing managers at Kia should take note. Chalk up your first real press release to experience. Let this be the last one that inflates the car’s EV driving range. It’s better to set the right expectations from jump street—rather than having to explain why drivers aren’t getting what's been advertised. At the very least, use the nice round number of 100 miles. That has a good ring to it, and will be closer to everyday reality.

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