Anybody wanting a 200+ mile range electric car, and liking the utilitarian shape of the Kia Soul EV, and residing in the USA, is feeling disappointed today. Recently Kia made it clear that USA sales of the 2020 Kia eSoul, the revamped Soul EV with 243 mile electric driving range range, would be delayed for a year. Kia eSoul sales had been expected in the USA in Spring 2020, but have been pushed back to some unspecified time in 2021. Frustratingly, Kia is selling this car in Europe right now.
In the press for a few weeks there has been several articles suggesting the 2020 Kia Soul EV would be delayed in the USA until 2021. The cited reason is supply issues primarily for battery packs. Yesterday Green Car Reports issued an article saying they’d confirmed the delay with Kia. Kia spokesman Neil Dunlop confirmed to GCR this news, citing “limited battery supply and electric motor shortages”. Dunlop claimed the 2021 model will go on sale “sometime in 2021” which isn’t encouraging, especially as he said that may change.
The updated model would be a departure in at least three ways. First the 243 miles of range is due to using the battery pack from the Kia Niro EV. Second, the new model will use the Combo Charging System where the existing model uses CHAdeMO for fast charging. Additionally it will support 100 kiloWatt charging on CCS – a charging rate that many years of Tesla owners have proved is sufficient for electric car road trips. Finally, the upgraded model has a more powerful motor (150 kiloWatts, 200+ horsepower) than the existing model.
Those of us who really like the Soul EV are chomping at the bit to upgrade to this model. But…
Isn’t the Kia Soul EV a compliance car? Nope
Many dismiss Kia’s electric cars as compliance cars because they’re sold in a limited number of US states, with small sales figures. Indeed ever since the Kia Soul EV went on sale in October 2014, it’s been selling a hundred or so units per month in the USA. I happened to buy a Kia Soul EV in October 2014, in part because I’d heard Kia’s sales goal was 5000 units in 2015 indicating that Kia had big goals for the car. In reality they sold less than half that many in 2015, and the pattern for the Soul EV does fit the “compliance car moniker”.
But that does not tell the whole story about the Soul EV, because sales for this car are strong in several European countries. I’ve seen this myself, by sighting at least one Soul EV driving the streets of Bucharest Romania during my time there last fall and last winter. As the administrator of the Kia Soul EV group on Facebook, I know the membership is heavily to Europeans, and even within that group heavily to Norwegians.
Bottom line the Kia Soul EV is not a half-baked compliance car, as evidenced by strong sales in Europe. As the owner of a Kia Soul EV, I am immensely happy with my choice and believe it is an excellent electric car. Under the skin it may be simply a “conversion” of the gas-powered Kia Soul, as some suggest, but to me – I am experienced with converting gas vehicles to electric – the Soul EV is not compromised in any way. The fit-and-finish is excellent, as is the driving experience. When introduced in 2014 it had the longest electric driving range of any non-Tesla electric car on the market at that time. That of course has been surpassed, but the extra range in this car has been useful on several trips.
Kia’s treatment of the Soul EV in the USA is a shame. They have on their hands a very good electric car that could be selling in bigger volume in the USA. But they’ve artificially held down Soul EV sales in the USA by instead shipping most of the production to Europe. Further, they’ve decided to prevent the upgraded model from being sold in the USA, and there will be a 2 year gap between the last Soul EV sale in the USA and the restart of sales in 2021 of the upgraded Soul EV.
It’s not just the Soul EV that’s in this predicament. The Green Car Reports article notes the Hyundai Kona EV (Hyundai and Kia are owned by the same parent company) is similarly selling well in Europe but is constrained in the USA.
The upgraded Kia Soul EV in Europe and elsewhere
According to Zigwheels, Kia is showing the upgraded Soul EV in India. The article says the company doesn’t have immediate plan for sales in India, but suggests that it is in the planning.
Last week Der Speigel published a “long distance test drive” of the Kia e-Soul driving from Hamburg to Amsterdam. It’s a fairly typical review of the e-Soul, written in German so you’ll need to use Google Translate (as I do), ending with a slam because of some difficulty they had in finding a charging station in Amsterdam. I don’t understand that since the Netherlands has a zillion-and-one charging stations all over the place. In any case, this article talks as if the e-Soul is readily available, and does not discuss any supply problem.
Supply my also be constrained in Europe. The site freenet.de says as much, saying that Kia has ordered too few batteries to meet the sales demands for their growing line of plug-in hybrids and electrics.
In August 2019, focus.de posted a nice review of the Kia e-Soul that also said it is available in Germany, with no hint of any supply issue in Europe.
In February 2019, tek.no posted an article saying Kia had begun offering the Kia Soul EV in Norway with two battery sizes: 39.2 kiloWatt-hours and 64 kiloWatt-hours.
In June 2019, tu.no posted an article saying that Kia had notified people on waiting lists for the e-Niro and e-Soul that sales would be slower than expected. In particular there might be only 250 e-Soul’s available for sale in Norway through to the end of 2019.
In August 2019, tv2.no posted an article talking about e-Soul and e-Niro supply problems in Norway. The article starts by saying earlier Soul EV’s had been so popular in Norway that Kia had been “vacuuming” the rest of Europe to find Soul EV’s to sell in Norway. Most of the article talks about how good the new e-Soul is, with the only trouble being the lack of a tow hitch. Then it gets to sales and supply issues. A Kia spokesperson is saying e-Soul sales in Norway is constrained during 2019, that there is a long waiting list (1700+ people), and that folks should not expect to be able to buy an e-Soul until 2021. The e-Niro is in a similar situation in Norway.
Those articles were found by using Google News and selecting Germany and Norway. There are plenty of similar articles in other countries.
Parts supply is crucial to future electric vehicle success
The bottom line we can take is that Kia, and possibly Hyundai, does not have a good supply of batteries. Cars from both companies are well regarded – remember that both are owned by the same parent company, and a lot of resources are shared between the companies, making it appropriate to compare the two. They have severe problems selling electric cars in the USA, and less so in Europe.
The slower-than-expected rollout of the Tesla Model 3 was also constrained by parts supplies, especially battery packs. Tesla built Gigafactory-1 outside Reno NV in order to have a massive supply of batteries to be able to get Model 3 sales to a massive level. Reports are that the Gigafactory had a hard time fulfilling the demand, constraining Model 3 sales for quite awhile.
The Gigafactory was built because Tesla could do the math as to battery supply required to hit various sales volumes. The company then invested in building a big battery factory to support large sales volume.
This issue may be the determiner between which EV manufacturers succeed or fail.
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