One key specification in the 2020 Kia Soul EV that was revealed at the LA Auto Show this week was a bit unexpected: its inclusion of a large, 64-kwh battery pack.
That leaves two vehicles—the Soul EV and the 2019 Kia Niro EV—with the same big battery. And both will be arriving at U.S. dealerships in the first quarter of 2019.
Based on earlier hints, we expected Kia to fit the more city-focused, lease-oriented Soul EV with the company’s 39-kwh pack. So we asked Kia why it decided to go big on battery for both of these high-utility hatchbacks.
Simply put, according to Kia, it’s what existing Soul EV drivers want. And the Soul EV and Niro EV don’t really compete with each other.
“The plan all along was to maximize range, because that’s what our customers want,” said Steve Kosowski, the manager of long-range strategy and planning at Kia Motors America.
2020 Kia Soul EV
When, in late 2015, the company surveyed its customers about what range they wanted in a next vehicle, they were a bit surprised about how high the range they wanted was. “The median range was 208 miles,” said Kosowski. “So from this we learned that 200 miles is sort of a magical number.
The 39-kwh pack couldn’t meet that, so it was ruled out at that point in the development process. “It was very telling, we got a lot of very valuable information from that survey,” said Kosowski. “One of the engineers asked, why do you want to carry all this weight around if you only use a portion of the battery most of the time; but I think the industry has shown, and consumers have shown, that 200 is the new floor.”
That happens to be quite close to what Honda describes as the process in deciding why it didn’t need significantly more range in its Clarity Electric, versus its former Fit EV (by surveying owners). Honda settled on just 25.5 kwh and an EPA-rated 89 miles of range. So apparently not everyone agrees.
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Kia says that, despite the similarities, very few if any shoppers will consider both the Soul EV and the Niro EV. Soul EV customers want the car to be more vibrant and youthful—thus the brighter color palette—with the capability to take along a bike, surfboard, or dogs, Kosowski said, while Niro EV buyers are more understated and more likely to have kids.
2019 Kia Niro EV
The Niro is the flagship eco-car for Kia, so it will be the somewhat higher-priced, more premium offering in the lineup than the Soul EV.
At a current estimated cost, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, of more than $200 per kilowatt-hour, including manufacturing costs and ancillary pieces like the pack case and cooling system, the 64-kwh battery pack could cost several thousand dollars more than the 39-kwh one, even when considering the economies of scale. But if more existing owners re-up for the new model because of it, and Kia is able to sell more Soul EVs rather than unload them via lease deals, the range bump may pay off handsomely.