Friday 7 February 2014

Kia launches Soul EV in Chicago

Kia Motors has used the Chicago Auto Show to unveil its “first mass-production” electric vehicle, the Soul EV.

Set to go on sale in the US in third quarter 2014, to be followed later by Europe and the UK, the Soul EV will be Kia's “first all-electric, zero-emissions car” to be sold in the US.

The Soul EV joined the refreshed Optima Hybrid at the show. Their arrival, according to Kia, demonstrates the company’s intent to “lead the industry in providing technologically advanced vehicles that also reduce dependency on non-renewable resources”.

Every vehicle builder seemingly wants to be first with an EV, even though in the UK demand for such vehicles, even with UK government backing, has been lacklustre. Even so, Kia has “no plans” to bring the Optima Hybrid to the UK market where this year JaguarLandRover will launch its hybrid Range Rover. Hybrids offer the best potential to introduce the car-buying public gently to “electric” vehicles without being a drain on the country’s power generating capacity.

Ironically, automakers queue up behind one another to demonstrate their superiority with electric vehicles, none more so than in the UK (already struggling with power station capacity) in adverse weather conditions.

Nissan, for example in its tv advertising for the Nissan Leaf, asks people to “Join the revolution and stop buying petrol”. Does Nissan seriously want road users to stop buying petrol (and diesel) and, for example, not purchase the Nissan Quasqui model – made in Britain? Or the Nissan Juke? Or any other gasoline/diesel powered Nissan? Surely, tv copywriters become quickly carried away with enthusiasm.

                                                Range anxiety

Kia admits a top concern for EV buyers is “range anxiety”. The company claims the Soul EV addresses this issue with its energy-dense lithium-ion polymer battery. Located beneath the floor, the 27kWh, air-cooled, 200 Wh/kg battery is expected to yield a range of approximately 80-100 miles of “real-world” driving on a full charge. Kia’s internal testing and evaluation results exceed 100 miles in some instances.

The 360 volt 96-cell lithium-ion polymer battery has been engineered for high capacity, thermal stability and safety. Accordingly, the battery features a nickel-cobalt-manganese cathode to increase capacity, and a graphite-based anode, which increases durability while reducing weight.

Additionally, the cells use a gel electrolyte, and each cell contains ceramic separators to significantly improve thermal stability and safety.

Kia strangely makes no mention of battery life or the cost of battery replacement.

In an effort to maximise efficiency and range, the Soul EV uses Kia's third-generation regenerative braking system to capture up to 12 percent of the car's kinetic energy. This is fed back into the battery during coasting and braking. There are four regeneration modes.

Soul EV owners can plug into a standard 120v outlet or a conventional 240v EV charger. Two charging ports are standard, including a SAE J1772 port for Level 1 and Level 2 AC, and a CHAdeMo DC fast-charging port (480v).

Kia claims these enhance the Soul EV's “go-anywhere appeal” and the ability to charge inside the owner's garage or when out on the road. Recharging times vary from 24 hours for a fully depleted battery using a standard 120-volt outlet and under five hours when plugged into a 240-volt outlet. An 80-percent charge can be achieved 33 minutes but requires a “50 kW-output charger”!

Kia has partnered with three charger providers - Bosch, Leviton and AeroVironmentTM - to give Soul EV buyers “an opportunity to select the unit best suited to their in-home needs”.

The front-wheel drive Soul EV is powered by an 81.4 kW, 109bhp electric motor, producing 210lbft. of torque. The liquid-cooled AC synchronous permanent magnet motor uses multi-layer magnets to improve efficiency and reduce whine commonly experienced with other electric vehicles.

On the other hand, in the interests of pedestrian safety, Kia has had to equip the Soul EV with its Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS). This emits an auditory alert at speeds below 12 mile/h and whenever the car is in reverse!

The motor delivers its power to the front wheels through a single-speed constant-ratio gear reduction unit. Acceleration from 0-6 mile/h is 12s with a top speed electronically limited to approximately 90 mile/h.

The battery is located beneath the floor to lower centre of gravity, and enhance ride and handling. Kia’s body engineers have been forced to introduce cross bracing beneath the battery to improve torsional rigidity over the petrol or diesel-powered Souls.

Because of the battery's flat design and location beneath the floor, there is a 3 inch reduction to rear seat leg room (from 39.1 to 36 inches) from the non-EV Soul.

Even so, Kia claims the Soul EV offers more rear seat leg room than other “key EV competitor”.

Rear shoulder and hip room remain unchanged from the petrol and diesel-powered Souls. However, rear luggage volume has been reduced by 5.1 cu.ft. to 19.1 cu.ft) as space beneath the boot floor is used for the battery cooling fan and storage of the standard 120v portable charger.

This is all a far cry from what is described as the first electric vehicle - see Porsche P1 - the first electric Porsche. 

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