Affordability has always been a challenge for EVs. Just a few years ago, we thought that with battery prices falling, electric vehicles would soon reach price parity with gas-powered cars. Battery supply proved more challenging than anticipated, and we’re now seeing the price of both EVs and their primitive piston pile cousins soar with inflation and crazy dealer markups in 2022.
But, that doesn’t mean automakers have completely forgotten about low-income earners and people who don’t think a $1000+ car payment is a great financial move (even when they can probably afford it). Huh). We are seeing budget EV options start coming in, many of which come with a 2023 release date.
Before I get to Kia’s lost opportunity to enter this market segment, I want to talk about what else remains in the new EV market priced at $30k.
Other Budget EVs
I know Nissan fans think I should talk about LEAF in an article about the proliferation of budget EVs, so I’ll get that out of the way first. I have one, and regardless of how much you may like yours, I really hate me. It’s a great affordable option, but only if you live in a location with mild or cold climates and don’t want to go on any long trips at rural American highway speeds. Even in hot climates, it can be just fine as a city car.
But, the lack of liquid battery cooling and the lack of CCS charging is going to make LEAF an option that one should only consider if they can find a bargain on it or a really good lease deal (both of which are possible) . Most of the upcoming infrastructure bill stations are not going to be able to charge the car, and that is going to reduce its long-term utility and value. The lack of liquid cooling is going to affect battery life, even though they’ve gotten a lot better since the 2011 model (I have one of those, too).
The second problem is Nissan’s reputation for poor quality. It’s difficult to tie up an EV, mostly because of the small parts, but Nissan’s gas vehicles have been known to have problems. I’ve seen my fair share of problems outside of the battery and motor, including frequent problems with CV joints, things like doors and door locks, and other odds and ends.
So, I think we should include LEAF in this category, but only with those caveats and only with the understanding that it separates the line between economy EV and compliant car.
Other budget options are the Chevy Bolt EV and EUV. Not only did GM drop the price to a very affordable level (sub-$30k) for 2023, but it also offers great incentives for the remaining 2022 models (which are in short supply at the moment). The Bolt has liquid cooling, generally better reliability, and GM is putting in better battery cells after the fire issues.
On the downside, the Bolt family of vehicles still has some significant drawbacks. While they have liquid cooling and should be more durable than the Nissan Pack, they are still limited to 55 kW charging rates. Compared to everything from Teslas to Volkswagens, it’s generally the very low charging speeds that are going to make the car less useful on road trips (but still better than the LELF in many respects). So, this 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 down on the battery pack seems like a good way to cut costs while still delivering the EV experience on most drives, but for some reason we just aren’t seeing much.
Kia refused to join the fray
A recent announcement by Kia suggests that it is passing on the opportunity to enter the realm of low-cost EVs. While the prices of Kia Soul in 2022 are very low even by gas car standards, Kia has cut down on the options and is offering nothing but a 4-cylinder motor.
Kia still offers four versions of the Spirit: LX, S, GT-Line, and EX trim packages. There are significant differences like interior creature comforts and electronics. But, whatever trim level you choose, you get the same 2.0-liter inline four that makes 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. In other words, it’s going to be an anemic little boxy car. A CVT transmission can in some ways improve this experience automatically, but you can’t find a manual transmission as well (which will reduce losses and improve the driving experience a bit for those who know how to drive it) .
This is probably a cost-cutting move. Earlier, Kia offered both turbocharged and naturally aspirated options as well as an EV variant for this car. Like Nissan’s LEAF, the EV version lacked liquid cooling, but at least incorporated cabin air into the cooling process to provide some cooling in addition to ambient air.
But, battery supply was difficult for the 64 kWh version of the 2020 Soul, and Kia will reportedly use the battery to sell the better and more expensive Niro EV. At first, the US version was only delayed, but then it was canceled altogether.
This may be good for Kia, but bad for EV Transition
I once had a neighbor who really loved the Kia Soul EV. It worked, and gave her a good run in the Phoenix metro area as well. But, it was an early compliant car with 27 kWh battery storage, so it was not as useful as the later 64 kWh version in Europe. So, they are really two different cars for two different uses. Kia has a limited battery supply, so it has to do the right thing for its shareholders and use those batteries on more profitable cars that it knows will sell.
Not offering a low-cost vehicle like other manufacturers will delay the transition to EVs. The new market is only part of what happens there, as these cars eventually join the used market and help those with low incomes or those with a budget desire to consider an EV. The fewer manufacturers we see actually entering this space, the longer it will take for that to happen.
Featured image by Kia.
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