Kia Missed A Great Opportunity To Join The Budget EV Market

Affordability has always been a challenge for EVs. Just a couple of years ago, we thought that with the dropping battery prices, EVs would soon reach price parity with gas-powered cars. Battery supplies proved to be more challenging than anticipated, and now we’re seeing the price of both EVs and their primitive piston pile cousins go up with inflation and insane dealer markups in 2022.

But, that doesn’t mean that auto manufacturers have completely forgotten about people with lower incomes and people who don’t think a $1000+ car payment is a great financial move (even when they can probably afford it). We’re seeing budget EV options start to come about, several of which come with a 2023 release date.

Before I get to Kia’s lost chance to enter this market segment, I want to talk about what else inhabits the sub-$30k priced new EV market.

Other Budget EVs

I know Nissan fans think I should talk about the LEAF in an article about proliferating budget EVs, so I’ll get that out of the way first. I own one, and regardless of how much you may like yours, I pretty much hate mine. It’s a great affordable option, but only if you live in a place with a mild or cold climate and don’t want to go on any long trips at rural US highway speeds. Even in hotter climates, it may be OK as a city car.

But, the lack of liquid battery cooling and the lack of CCS charging is going to make the LEAF an option someone should only consider if they can get a bargain on it or a really good lease deal (which are both possible). Most upcoming Infrastructure Bill stations just aren’t going to be able to charge the car, and that’s going to make its long-term utility and value lower. The lack of liquid cooling is going to affect battery life, even if they’ve gotten a lot better since the 2011 models (I owned one of those, too).

The other problem is Nissan’s reputation for poor quality. It’s hard to bungle an EV, mostly due to smaller parts, but Nissan’s gas vehicles are known for problems. I’ve seen my fair share of problems outside of the battery and motor, including repeated problems with the CV joints, things like doors and door locks, and other odds and ends.

So, I do think we should include the LEAF in this category, but only with those caveats and only with the understanding that it kind of straddles the line between economy EV and compliance car.

The other budget option out there is the Chevy Bolt EV and EUV. Not only did GM drop the price to very affordable levels (sub-$30k) for 2023, but it also offers great incentives for remaining 2022 models (which are in short supply at the moment). The Bolt has liquid cooling, generally better reliability, and GM is putting in much improved battery cells after the fire issues.

On the downside, there are still some important drawbacks to the Bolt family of vehicles. While they have liquid cooling and should be more durable than the Nissan packs, they are still limited to 55 kW charging rates. Compared to everything from Teslas to Volkswagens, that’s a generally very low charging speed that’s going to make the car less useful on road trips (but still better than the LEAF in many cases). So, it too is mostly a city or regional car and not a road warrior.

One thing we should be seeing more of in this price range are plugin hybrids, but they seem to be priced well north of $30k and even $40k in most cases right now. Cutting back on battery packs seem like a good way to cut costs while still giving an EV experience on most drives, but for some reason we’re not seeing much of that right now.

Kia Declines To Join The Fray

A recent announcement by Kia shows us that it is passing on the opportunity to enter the realm of lower-priced EVs. While the Kia Soul has very low prices even by gas car standards in 2022, Kia has cut back on options and isn’t offering anything but a single 4-cylinder motor.

Kia still offers four versions of the Soul: the LX, S, GT-Line, and EX trim packages. There are important differences, like interior creature comforts and electronics. But, regardless of what trim level you pick, you get the same 2.0 liter inline four putting out 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. In other words, it’s going to be an anemic little boxy car. The CVT transmission may improve this experience over an automatic in some ways, but you can’t even get a manual transmission (which would reduce losses and improve the driving experience a bit for people who know how to drive it).

This is probably a cost-cutting move. Previously, Kia offered both turbocharged and naturally aspirated options for this car, as well as an EV version. Like Nissan’s LEAF, the EV version lacked liquid cooling, but did incorporate cabin air into the cooling process to at least give some cooling other than ambient air.

But, battery supplies for the 64 kWh version of the 2020 Soul were hard to come by, and Kia reportedly would rather use batteries to sell the better and more expensive Niro EV. At first, the US version was only delayed, but then it was canceled altogether.

This Might Be Good For Kia, But Bad For The EV Transition

I once had a neighbor who really loved her Kia Soul EV. It did the job, and gave her decent performance even in the Phoenix metro area. But, it was an early compliance car with 27 kWh of battery storage, so it wasn’t as useful as the later 64 kWh version that Europe got. So, they’re really two different cars for two very different uses. Kia does have limited battery supplies, so it has to do the right thing for its shareholders and use those batteries on more profitable cars it knows will sell.

By not offering a lower-priced vehicle like other manufacturers, the transition to EVs will be delayed. The new market is only part of what happens there, as these cars eventually join the used market and help people with even lower incomes or budget desires to consider an EV. The fewer manufacturers we see actually enter this space, the longer it’s going to take for that to happen.

Featured image by Kia.


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