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Chicago show: Kia outs Soul EV

Outside chance: Kia is discussing the viability of introducing the Optima Hybrid to Australia.

Kia thinks green with Soul EV and Optima Hybrid at Chicago show

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Kia logo10 Feb 2014

By TIM NICHOLSON

KIA lifted the lid on the electric version of its new-generation Soul hatch at the Chicago motor show, revealing its first attempt at a mass-market electric vehicle.

The Korean brand also penciled in a market launch in North America during the third quarter of 2014, focusing on states that have the best EV infrastructure, including California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

An Australia launch, however, is less likely.

Internal combustion versions of the new second-generation Soul will arrive in local showrooms this week, but the electrified version is unlikely to get here anytime soon.

Kia Motors Corporation Australia general manager of public relations Kevin Hepworth told GoAuto the Soul EV was currently only built in left-hand drive configuration and that it was “highly unlikely” it would make it Down Under.

Mr Hepworth highlighted the low sales of EVs in Australia and the cost of infrastructure as further reasons that the Soul EV is “not on any radar” for the Korean car-maker’s local arm.

Sales of pure electric vehicles in Australia remain low, with the Nissan Leaf the only vehicle of its kind left on the Australia market after Mitsubishi quietly pulled the tiny i-MiEV from sale mid last year.

While the i-MiEV is still technically available on special order if a customer requests it, Mitsubishi is now focusing on plug-in hybrid technology that will be showcased on its forthcoming Outlander PHEV due in April.

Last year, Nissan sold 188 examples of the Leaf – which is currently available for $39,990 drive-away – while no-one ordered an i-MiEV.

Lack of incentives for EV buyers that exist in many European and Asian countries and a number of US states, combined with a charging network that is growing but still relatively small, particularly outside major metro areas, are often cited as barriers to EV growth in Australia.

The front-wheel drive Soul EV is powered by a 27kWh, air-cooled, lithium-ion polymer battery located under the floor, combined with an 81kW/284Nm electric motor – the same one used in the Optima Hybrid.

Kia claims an electric vehicle range of between 129km and 161km, although the company said that in some internal testing results, the range exceeded 161km.

The Australian-spec version of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf can be driven for up to 170km before requiring a charge, while the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has a range of up to 150km.

Power is delivered through the front wheels via a “single-speed constant-ratio gear reduction unit” that works in much the same way as a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Regenerative braking is used to harness up to 12 per cent of the Soul’s kinetic energy that is then fed back into the battery when the vehicle is braking and coasting. This is controlled through regenerative driving modes including “Drive” or “Brakes” with an Eco-mode.

Kia says that the location of the battery underneath the floor ensures a lower centre of gravity for improved ride and handling, while added cross-bracing beneath the battery means a 5.9 per cent improvement in torsional rigidity over the petrol-powered Soul.

The electric-powered Soul is slower than the petrol-powered model with a 0-100km/h time of 12 seconds before a top speed of approximately 145km/h.

The charging port is located behind a sliding door of the front grille, and the Soul EV can be charged in 24 hours with a 120-volt outlet, less than five hours with a 240-volt outlet and 33 minutes with a 50kW charger.

As the Soul EV produces no sound, Kia has included a ‘Virtual Engine Sound System’ that emits an alert at speeds below 19km/h and when the car is in reverse. Cabin space has been impacted slightly due the inclusion of the battery, with rear seat leg room down by 79mm and cargo space reduced by 144 litres.

Externally, the Soul EV maintains the same boxy shape of the second-generation hatch, but features a larger grille to house the chargers, Eco Electric badging, projector headlights, LED tail-lights and positioning lamps and distinctive 16-inch alloy wheels.

Just three two-tone body colour choices will be available when it goes on sale in the US later this year, including ‘Pearl White’ body with ‘Electronic Blue’ roof, ‘Caribbean Blue’ body with ‘Clear White’ roof and ‘Bright Silver’ with ‘Clear White’ roof.

The cabin features the use of organic, eco-friendly material, some of which is anti-bacterial, and two-tone interior colour options that are exclusive to the EV variant in cloth or leather trim.

Kia’s Chicago show stand had a strong green leaning, with the company’s previously unveiled Niro hybrid crossover concept on display as well as a petrol-electric hybrid version of its facelifted Optima mid-sizer.

The company said in a statement that the trio of green machines highlights “Kia’s intent to lead the industry in providing technologically advanced vehicles that also reduce our dependency on non-renewable resources”.

The Optima Hybrid features updated styling including redesigned front-end and tail-lights, new wheel designs and a grille that is unique to the variant.

Kia’s petrol-electric drivetrain consists of a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine matched with a 47kW lithium-polymer battery that produces a combined output of 148kW/318Nm with claimed US fuel consumption of 6.2 litres per 100 kilometres. This marks a 1.7L/100 improvement over the petrol version that sips 7.9L/100km.

Mr Hepworth said that there were no immediate plans to bring the Optima Hybrid to Australia, but the company was engaged in “ongoing discussions” about the viability of the variant in Australia.

If it does get the green light for Australia, it would compete with the locally built Toyota Camry hybrid and would likely carry a premium over petrol-powered models.

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