Kia debuts its first electric vehicle for U.S. market

CHICAGO Thu Feb 6, 2014 12:24pm EST

A 2012 Kia Soul, whose design is inspired with ideas from LPGA golfer Michelle Wie, is seen at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles November 16, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

A 2012 Kia Soul, whose design is inspired with ideas from LPGA golfer Michelle Wie, is seen at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles November 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Kia Motors Corp (000270.KS) rolled out an electric version of its Soul compact car on Thursday that the Korean automaker plans to begin selling in some U.S. markets later this year.

The 2015 Soul EV, unveiled at the media kick-off for the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, is Kia's first all-electric, zero-emissions car in the United States and its second "green" car for the U.S. market, joining a hybrid version of the company's best-selling Optima sedan that has been available here since 2011.

The Soul EV is powered by an air-cooled lithium-ion polymer battery and an 81.4 kW, 109-horsepower, liquid-cooled electric motor, which produces a 210 lb.-ft. of torque, according to Kia.

The car can go from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 96 km per hour) in less than 12 seconds, has a top speed of 90 mph (144 km per hour) and can drive 80 to 100 miles on a full charge, the company said. The vehicle can be recharged by plugging into any standard 120v outlet or a conventional 240v EV charger.

The Soul EV will initially be sold in a handful of states, including California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland, Kia said. Pricing has not yet been announced.

U.S. demand for electric vehicles has confounded some of the old-line carmakers, including General Motors Co (GM.N) and Nissan Motor Co (7201.T), that were early movers in the marketplace.

Both companies have had to slash prices and offer other aggressive incentives on their EVs -- and still barely outsold the Tesla Model S, a battery-powered luxury sedan offered by newcomer Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) that is double the price of Nissan's Leaf and GM's Chevrolet Volt.

Worldwide production of electric vehicles is forecast to increase 67 percent to 403,000 units this year, according to IHS Automotive and Polk.

The increase in EV production is expected to come even as global vehicle production rises less than 4 percent in 2014.

Several European carmakers, including BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, are introducing electric propulsion vehicles in 2014 to comply with strict new emission rules.

Despite an aggressive campaign by the carmakers to push EVs, a push that has included free charging stations at some dealerships, and a raft of price cuts and cheap lease deals, the vehicles have not been hot sellers so far.

Obstacles to EV sales include overcoming buyer concerns about the vehicles' short driving range, long charging times and lack of charging stations.

Retail salespeople also are reluctant to spend the extra time it takes to educate buyers about the benefits of electric cars and how they differ from conventional models.

In January, Kia said it expects its global retail sales to rise 6 percent to 2.9 million vehicles in 2014, driven by demand in China and the United States, where the company expects to sell 630,000 and 585,000 vehicles, respectively.

The Chicago Auto Show opens to the public on Saturday, February 8 and runs through Monday, February 17.

(In the seventh paragraph, corrects to show that Nissan's Leaf and GM's Chevrolet Volt "barely outsold" the Tesla S, not that they were outsold by the Tesla S)

(Reporting by James B. Kelleher in Chicago; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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