As we’ve seen with the Volt and other green initiatives, GM is working to promote sustainability with perhaps its latest project being enablement of recharging from renewable energy.
On Monday, OnStar Communications contacted us and announced Volt owners “may soon be able to charge their vehicle using renewable energy.”
The actual time frame is “to be determined,” but the kinks are being worked out by OnStar and a company called PJM Interconnection with 17 Chevrolet Volts operated by Google’s Gfleet.
The way it generally works is OnStar-enabled technology receives a signal from PJM Interconnection showing the percentage of available renewable energy on the grid.
Data from this forecast is downloaded to the OnStar cloud, or Advanced Telematics Operating Management System (ATOMS). OnStar uses this signal to simultaneously manage the charging of many Volts and to match the renewable energy availability.
OnStar says a mobile app could be used to alert customers when renewable energy is available.
Google’s Gfleet is based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and as many of you know, Google is highly involved in other green projects and automotive experiments that include cars that drive themselves.
At the same time, Google is naturally willing to collaborate with real human drivers, as the species does not yet seem ready to go extinct.
The public demo fits with an announcement by Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president of planning and business development, who said it is nearly ready for prime time.
“This demonstration shows that in the near future customers will have a real signal of demand for renewable energy,” said Pudar. “As customers configure their Volts to favor renewable energy for their charging cycle, this real demand signal will influence utilities to tap into renewable sources.”
Note that Pudar says demand will prompt utilities to increase (now limited) renewable energy supply.
We asked Adam Dennison, an OnStar Communications representative who sent the info, “How hopeful are you that this will have a measurable or significant influence that it will push utilities to adopt more renewable energy sources?”
In response, he said “We think that as EVs continue to penetrate the marketplace that customers will drive a variety of demands throughout different industries. Certainly we believe that the energy industry will be one of these. Based on the level of interest a number of utilities have expressed in OnStar’s Smart Grid solutions, we are pretty confident that that they’ll be willing to look to more renewable energy sources.”
At present, peak hours for renewable energy generation from wind is generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. according to PJM data.
OnStar says it would therefore be possible for customers to use Smart Grid solutions to further reduce their carbon footprint and – as is already possible regardless of energy source – “save money by charging during these off-peak times.”
“Solutions like this one will ultimately lead to increased renewable energy generation and allow Chevrolet Volt owners to be a key part of that energy transformation,” said Pudar.
If the renewable energy service goes into production, customers interested in using it would need to sign up. Dennison did not say if it would cost extra or be made available with existing OnStar service.
Once signed up, OnStar would regulate customers’ charging using the renewable energy signal.
This video is not directly about the current project, but OnStar says it highlights an app it did for Google’s Gfleet of Volts.
OnStar says this renewable energy technology is the latest addition to its suite of Smart Grid solutions.
For your review, OnStar says it has developed other “intelligent energy management technology solutions,” including:
• Demand response – This solution connects utilities to companies that have intelligent energy management products. These companies can use OnStar to manage energy use for Volt customers who opt in for the service. This future service allows the customer to save money on energy costs while enabling more efficient use of the electric grid.
• Time-of-Use (TOU) rates – OnStar can receive dynamic TOU pricing from utilities and notify Volt owners of the rate plan offers via email. Owners will be able to use OnStar to load the rate plans directly into their vehicle and access them to schedule charging during lower-rate periods.
• Charging data – OnStar also sends and receives EV data that helps utility providers without having to interface with the vehicle’s electric vehicle supply equipment. This includes location-based EV data that identifies charging locations and determines potential load scenarios.
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Recently, GM announced a small investment in a company called Powermat. That company makes wireless device charging systems. Their current product allow users to place a receiver in the charge port of their device (cell phone, iPad, etc) and plug in the mat. If the device is rested on the mat, it is wirelessly charged.
The first automotive application expected to result from this partnership is an option for the 2012 Chevy Volt that will become available next year. It will be a wireless charging mat in the center of the console that drivers can rest their cellphones on while driving to have them wirelessly recharge.
The technology works through the use of induced magnetic fields:
Powermat uses magnetic induction to transfer energy. Specifically, energy is transferred from a transmitter (which will be embedded in vehicle) to a receiver (which is connected to or embedded in the device) through a shared magnetic field. Communication between the Mat (transmitter) and the Receiver (personal device) allows the mat to deliver an exact amount of power for the proper length of time so that the transfer of power is safe and efficient and no energy is ever wasted. When a device reaches full charge, power is shut off to that device. This not only saves energy, but it also prevents overcharging of the device’s battery, which can shorten battery life. -Powermat
This story begs the question as to whether this option could this be all the relationship is about? After all, GM Ventures is a VC unit that invests in small companies that may have big automotive futures.
Over the years there has often been talk and theoretical discussions about wirelessly charging not only small devices, but whole electric cars themselves.
The concept would be to have a large wireless mat in one’s garage, simply park on top of it, and the battery will recharge automatically.
Powermat spokesperson Scott Eisenstein admits his company is looking at how to charge large electric car batteries. “Yes, we are certainly looking into that,” he said.
Also according to Volt vehicle line executive Tony Posawazt, so is GM. “We are studying many exciting new technologies for the future, said Posawatz. “This includes wireless, hands-free inductive charging of the high voltage battery.”
This may be preaching to the choir, but for any Volt skeptics who you’d like to pass this along to, here you are: independent sources, the federal government and a respected auto website not known for bias for the Volt, no less.
If we showed you an independent research source that reveals how a $32,500 Chevy Volt earns back the difference and then saves you $6,000 in five years ownership time compared to a $21,400 Chevy Cruze, would you be interested?
Before we get to that, if you’re just beginning to look into alternative energy vehicles, a simple way to conceptualize plug-in hybrids is to think of them as hybrids on steroids.
Like the best full conventional hybrids, the plug-in varieties do save on operational (energy) costs for the life of the vehicle, and, with qualifiers attached, the U.S. EPA promotes this assertion as generally true.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) merge the best of both worlds from pure electric vehicle (EVs) and non-plug-in hybrids as their grid-supplied batteries are bigger than those in regular hybrids and allow part-time gas-free operation as well.
Both regular hybrids and PHEVs merge power from an internal combustion engine and blend it with a battery powered electric motor, but bigger batteries mean less gas use, and this can add up.
Reports on car shopper behavior however have shown the higher starting price of PHEVs may mean a snap decision against them as perceptibly too much to pay for what you get, but a closer examination may prove this an unfounded assumption.
Online cost calculators available may reveal the PHEV is still a better choice for your particular needs than a comparably equipped regular hybrid or internal combustion powered near-equivalent.
Real World Results Vary Widely
Operational (energy) costs are typically much less for PHEVs. Where they may vary is what you actually pay for gas, and what you actually pay for electricity. The federal government’s window stickers factor nationally averaged rates, and this is what gets reported often times.
Below we’ll show you where the feds redeem themselves and let you fine tune your actual energy costs on cars that can cost an average $4,000-$8,000 more than conventional equivalents.
Meanwhile, if you pay less or more than the 12 cents per kilowatt-hour or 2.79 per gallon the EPA figures for regular gas ($3.19 for premium) at the moment, your results could be better or worse than boilerplate window sticker assumptions.
On the other hand, anyone with access to renewably sourced energy, such as from a solar array, has a much higher likelihood of benefitting from the electric drive of PHEVs and it’s tantamount to receiving free fuel. Employers or other sources where you can get a free opportunity charge in your daily going to and fro also helps skew things in your favor.
How PHEVs Beat Conventional Cars
If you figure every machine costs money to run, PHEVs are like those which are most frugal with the energy “budget,” as it were.
Hybrid technologies like regenerative brakes capture energy otherwise wasted during stops.
And on those stops, Stop-Start systems ensure the gas engine is not running, idling, and burning fuel while you wait for the light to change.
Smaller than otherwise needed gas engines are right-sized to match their power with the electric drive.
PHEVs get stronger motors than regular hybrids that let them hit highway speeds in all-electric operation – usually up to 62-100 mph, depending on model.
However, plug-in hybrids differ – with the most notable metric to be aware of being battery size and effective all-electric range, as well as efficiency in gas-plus-electric or gas-only operation.
Also affecting the outcome will be your driving habits, particularly how far you drive between recharging.
Not Just About Costs
PHEVs let you bypass gas stations, which is convenient, liberating, even, while letting you “refuel” at home (assuming you have a place to do it).
They are estimated by the EPA to use about 40-60 percent less petroleum than conventional vehicles and this is conservative. Some drivers who stay within their electric range may beat this by much more. The EPA’s plug-in cost calculator which we’ll link below estimates how many gas station visits you’ll need depending on specific cars, and your exact energy costs, drive, and charging opportunities.
Prius PHEV. Numbers based on 40 miles per day, 15,000 per year, 15 miles to work, 110-volt charging on both ends of commute. Eighteen gas stops per year. Other PHEVs with larger batteries are much fewer. The Volt would never need to stop for gas and could do much more than this with its superior AER. Source: EPA.
Another benefit, of course, is PHEVs typically emit less greenhouse gas than conventional vehicles. True, some of those emissions are upstream at the power generation plant, and this varies by region. Nuclear, hydroelectric, and other renewable sources are cleaner than coal-fired power plants, but even the worst case scenario has seen scientists come out endorsing electrified vehicles over fuel burners.
And yet another reason to go with a PHEV is they can be enjoyable to drive. All-electric operation is quieter, smooth and can spoil you, and stories of people who went on to pure EVs have been told.
When It’s About Costs
Beyond sticker price, a wise buying decision factors all costs of ownership.
To drill down on your specific situation, the EPA’s My Plug-in Hybrid Calculator is a handy tool to determine energy costs. It covers every PHEV on the market, some of which are supercars like the million-dollar McLaren P1 which is sold out, but among more-ordinary vehicles, there are eight sold in the U.S. covered on the HybridCars.com monthly sales Dashboard.
Beyond this, evaluating ownership costs means weighing available federal and potentially state incentives along with other meaningful info needed to make a qualified decision. An unaffiliated site that has a useful tool is Edmunds.com and its proprietary True Cost To Own calculator.
2015 Chevy Cruze Eco. Do you get what you pay for? Source: Edmunds TCO calculator. We simply inputted zip code and model. This is the result of the websites’s proprietary algorithms. Cruze Eco (most fuel efficient) bought for $21,405 sure looked cheaper. Unfortunately, it will cost another $20,300 to own in five years, according to this calculator.
2015 Chevy Volt. It costs $11,100 more than the Cruze Eco. What a rip-off. We can almost hear the conservative talk show hosts now. Edmunds.com however says despite heavier depreciation in year one, and with a full $7,500 federal tax credit, this buyer will pay another $2,900 over initial payment net net instead of $20,300 in five years. We did not make this up – and as always, your actual results may vary.
GM-Volt.com is not compensated by your car buying choice; this article is purely info to enable you to decide what is best for you. Caveat emptor still applies.
It’s been said here many times GM can do anything anyone else can, and we all know the Bolt is coming.
A small SUV is not a bad vehicle to contemplate. Here is what I found with this one.
Introduced last fall, the 2015 Kia Soul EV makes an arguable case to go electric with good utility and the highest EPA-rated range among all EVs not named “Tesla.”
Like any car, the all-electric version of Kia’s second-generation Soul comes with pros and cons though, and arrives at a transitional time for evolving EVs three years after Nissan’s Leaf and other sub-$40,000 EVS have set expectations, and with next-generation models on the horizon.
That said, we have liked this car since we reviewed it at the media launch last October, and gave it a drive review this March in Washington state.
This will follow-up with more observations of the yet-California-only car driven two weeks on the East Coast where it’s not actually for sale yet.
Kia actually surprised itself with the first-generation Soul when from 2009 onwards its mini-ute began selling circles around the Scion xB and for an encore, it designed the slightly longer and wider Soul last year to be converted to all-electric status.
No, don’t think of a hamster on a treadmill; think advanced genius hamsters who infuse hamster power into the EV. (See commercial video below.)
People have said Kia’s dancing hamster mascots intended to cull in gen-Y buyers are hip or cute or what have you, but more important is what the Kia Soul EV is under the skin.
Unlike converted EVs with batteries stuffed in the trunk like Ford’s otherwise competent Focus Electric, this one suspends a 600-pound, largest-in-class 27-kwh li-ion polymer pack under the car so as not to impede from the gas-version’s cargo space.
Chassis reinforcements and low center of gravity with optimal weight distribution make for a fairly graceful conversion raising questions over the virtue of purpose-made versus converted EVs.
What’s a California car doing in Pennsylvania? Good question, and KIA is not saying why the New York regional and Washington D.C. press fleets have them, but this June it is due to go to Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Georgia. Kia is keeping its options open for other markets.
The Soul EV is thus, you might say, purpose-made to be converted.
And, its three-more kilowatt-hours over the Leaf’s 24 kwh bumps EPA rated range to 93 miles versus 84 and this is not a case of over promising and under delivering, but it tends to over deliver by a small amount.
Propulsion comes from an 81-kilowatt liquid-cooled AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor. Its 109 horsepower coupled with 210 pounds-feet of torque again feels better than a jaded view of the spec sheet might suggest.
It looks kind of like an engine, doesn’t it? No spark plugs, oil changes, other tune-up work, or complicated multi-speed transmission. And no hamsters. Kia’s lithium-ion polymer battery technology is different from the standard lithium-ion cells in most other EVs. For heat management, rather than using a liquid-based battery temperature management system to maintain optimum battery performance, particularly in cold weather, the Soul EV uses a battery heating system, which warms up the battery during charging.
Of course this is a single-speed affair per customary EV practice. Maximum velocity is 90 mph and beyond the range estimate, the EPA says it gets 120 city/92 highway and 105 combined.
A must-have is a suitable level 2 EVSE, such as this one by Bosch.
Good news is recharging is fast enough via a grille panel that pops open from a button inside to expose ports for the 6.6-kw charger, with a J1772 connector for 120/240-volt charging and supplied as-standard CHAdeMO port for 480-volt DC quick charging.
Using the latter, the Soul EV can be zapped to 80 percent full in 33 minutes, while a full charge at 240 volts will take 4 to 5 hours.
Using our Bosch Xpress EVSE limited to 24 amps on a 30-amp dedicated circuit at 247 indicated volts, level two is as advertised five-times quicker than level one house current.
The Soul comes with a 120-volt charger, but its 24-hour recharge time is glacial by comparison.
Those hamsters are meant to dazzle youngsters into feeling this is one cool ride, and painted up as ours was, it does overlay hipness with otherwise sensible standard fare.
More plain colors like white or gray can let you escape standing out in a vehicle that’s otherwise not very distinguishable from the near-ubiquitous Soul gas version, or there’s also a black version with red roof and accents.
In re-doing the Soul, Kia did not otherwise deviate too far from the formula that works with short overhangs, roomy interior, nice split-fold-down rear seats with privacy/security cover in the rear.
EV specific badging, a blocked-off grille, aero undertray and special wheels help to define the EV package.
Included is a special version of Kia’s UVO eServices. With built-in connectivity from Verizon and an app on their phone, Soul EV owners can get real-time battery status and can remotely start and stop charging, heating or air conditioning. Drivers can also use the standard-fit navigation system to find nearby charging stations. UVO services are free for the first five years, and the Soul EV comes with a five-year Sirius TravelLink subscription as well.
Dash layout is functional, materials are a respectable assortment of soft and hard-touch, and instruments – including EV-specific gauges and infotainment – are arranged logically enough.
The net result is a familiar automotive experience, if not exceedingly upscale for our upper level car of two available trim packages pushing over $37,000 before taxes and tags.
As Kia positions it, the zero emissions car is fanciful and fun, as indicated by a European and a U.S. commercial:
Opulent it is not, but when you look closer, touches like electric retractable mirrors, heated and cooled perforated leather seats, 8-inch screen, and energy-saving functions like Driver-Only HVAC and exotic energy saving heat pump show you are getting something special.
The package works too and proves comfortable for daily running around and occasionally stuffing things in back, even an 18-inch frame mountain bike with front wheel removed and all the gear.
100 Miles Range Can Be Enough
The EPA says 93 miles, but we’ve logged up to 110 miles with four to spare, 90-100 miles is not too tough in combined driving, and others have verified this too. Prior to EPA certification, Kia initially said up to 120 miles range would be possible in announcing its first EV outside its home market, probably based on its own sedate testing, as this might be achievable at turtle pace.
Pressed into bike-hauling duty, the Soul will work with room to spare.
Considering U.S. government studies say the average daily drive is under 40 miles, this means if you fit that profile, you may be immune to range anxiety unless a longer journey is required.
Personally, I about fit that profile, and had the Soul EV for a luxurious two full weeks and the car started to grow on me.
Once I got the new Bosch EVSE up and running to make recharging faster, I realized I had range to spare. Each day I’d come in with 50-60 remaining miles and it was no worries. The recharge was between two and three hours.
A tiny bit of space is sacrificed for the otherwise comfortable rear seats in the EV over the gas version. Also noteworthy is the interior is accented with about 53 pounds of bio-base plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane. These are found in door panels, headliner, seat trim, roof pillars and carpeting.
Mental readjustment is necessary though. Unlike how it would be with a base $16,000 Soul, I could never have contemplated hopping in and taking the Kia back from the East Coast to where they actually sell them in California.
EVs like this are local runners, but the operating cost, no tailpipe, simplicity and drive experience are perks, the car is enjoyable, and on that note, we’ll share more on that…
With low center of gravity, and reinforced chassis to handle the extra weight, the Soul EV takes corners respectably composed, if not laden with g-forces.
Operation as one would expect is very hushed, and no squeaks and rattles that one might have heard were noticed to add to the thrum of the super low rolling resistance EV specific tires.
Part of the long range is this is not an overpowered beast. You can’t waste too many electrons if you tried, as is the case with powerful EVs meant to push you into the back seat and simulate a take-off in a SpaceX rocket heading to Mars.
No, the Soul is frugal, no nonsense, gets the job done, but never feels so slow as to be a safety hazard. On the highway, power is always available to run with and even ahead of the flow.
Zero to 60 around 11.2 seconds is maybe half a second or more slower than a current Prius – which is quicker than the former generation Prius – and in other words within range of standard deviation for eco cars.
A function on the transmission called “Brake” (B) common to electrified vehicles significantly adds regenerative energy and you might see range go up a mile or two with enough coast-downs.
It’s so useful, we wish there were regen paddles to activate it in lieu of a brake, as moving the shifter every time you come to a stop is burdensome, and may even wear out something in the mechanism over the years, so we would not recommend doing this.
The Soul also has an Eco function that’s progressively settable. It can so rein in the power as to initially make you wonder if the car is broken. Eco is not much fun, but will save some energy, that’s for sure.
Speaking of broken, it may have been a fluke, but two times the Soul EV inexplicably went into a limp mode with power drastically and immediately cut.
The first time it happened just as we came off a highway which was fortunate as the car would no go past 44 indicated mph. Dash lights came on to alert there was a fault, and we nursed it home.
We were afraid to shut off and reboot thinking it may just leave us stranded, but actually, when we arrived at our destination, we did just that, and just as mysteriously, the car began operating normally, capable again of chirping the front tires with the abrupt torque.
The next time this happened a few days later, we shut the car off, restarted, and it was fixed again. Go figure.
Is this a concern? One instance with this press fleet car does not an issue make, but we’re noting it.
The base model starts at $33,700 plus $850 destination charge. It and a $35,700 plus $850 destination Soul EV+ are nicely equipped and you can factor off applicable federal or state incentives.
The Soul EV is packed with options above a base gas version and with surcharge on top of that for the electric conversion. A base stripped Soul starts at below $16,000 and add a few thousand for a nicely equipped one.
Included standard are rearview camera, heated outside mirrors, tilt-telescoping steering column, heated steering wheel and front seats; power windows; navigation and infotainment system; Bluetooth connectivity; and a six-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary jacks.
We said Kia has the highest EPA-rated range other than a Tesla, and that’s technically true, but Mercedes-Benz roughly $42,000 B-Class Electric has an 8-kwh reserve adding to 36-kwh, and an extra 17 miles over its rated 87. It’s powered by Tesla.
To be sure, this is a luxurious car positioned at a youthful demographic, but really, its price is within league of the $30,000 and up Leaf and Focus and a few others and it’s thus competitive among peers.
A $7,500 federal tax credit and state incentives as applicable help, but as many other EV adopters have discovered, this car too may be a better candidate for a lease.
Leasing for as low as $249 monthly with $1,999 down could make this Kia more appealing. Leasing may make all the more sense too, as this is an awkward time for EVs.
Next Benchmark Coming
In February we noted three new EVs in the mid 30s are pending in the next 1-3 years that will offer 200-250 mile range.
Chevy Bolt concept.
These are the Chevy Bolt, Tesla Model 3 and second-generation Leaf. A rumor also has it that Nissan may update the 2016 Leaf with a 30-kwh battery for 105 miles or so range as a stop-gap measure before a full redesign the year following, and that also would make it more competitive next to the Kia.
That said, these promised cars are long on rumors, and short on specifics about actual performance, range, design, and much more. No one has even seen the next Tesla or Nissan, but the pre-production Bolt is out being road tested. GM has not confirmed the model year even for that.
So really, these double-the-range cars have as-of-yet uncertain launch dates and may not be available in 2017 or even 2018, though unofficial reports suggest they could be here in that time frame.
For those who want an EV now, leasing a Soul EV for three years could mean not having to wait a year or two more and potential downsides associated with ownership could be eliminated without having to wait.
Kia Is Still Very Competitive
The irony of the state of affairs in the sub-$40,000 EV market is Kia’s EV is just now rolling out to new markets. It’s later than others, but being spec’d marginally better and the only electric small SUV it may be one of the best EVs going in this price class, if you can get it.
The automaker for now sells it only in California. This summer, the Soul EV will go on sale in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Georgia – and actually at least one dealer in Olympia, Wash. has it already.
Kia hasn’t announced any other markets but has told us it will continue to review its next steps.
Thus our next step – with asterisk attached – is to reiterate we like what this car delivers and think for some it could indeed fill the bill.
The Sonata PHEV uses batteries said to be 20 percent lighter, more energy dense than those used by competitors. The battery maker is the same as for the Volt, “LG Chemical,” as a Korean said Monday, though we have forever only heard it called “LG Chem.”
This vehicle also tackles the range anxiety issue two ways – one with an ICE, the other by using the ICE to return roughly 44 miles per hour more or less depending on road speed to the pack. That means quick charges when the gauge only reads “25” miles range when full.
When released this fall, Hyundai’s 2016 Sonata Plug-in Hybrid will set a new benchmark where it counts the most among in-class competitors – which does not include the Volt – with 25-percent more all-electric range.
The PHEV will also uniquely come with what is tantamount to having its own built-in quick charger – a function enabling the gas engine to replenish the battery on the road as much as five-times faster than with a 240-volt level 2 charger.
U.S. EPA fuel numbers are not in yet, but Hyundai estimates 24 miles range and this we exceeded by over four miles without difficulty on the road this week. Other information about our drive in Southern California is “embargoed” by Hyundai, but this data point we were granted permission to publish ahead of a media blackout on drive impressions in effect until next Tuesday.
Our all-electric suburban trip of 28.4 miles with HVAC on and up to 55 mph at brief points split the gap between the highest-rated blended PHEV, the 19-mile-rated Ford Fusion Energi, and the first-generation 38-mile extended-range Chevy Volt. In speaking with another publication’s driver, he got over 27 miles in mixed driving, so we don’t believe this was a fluke.
The Sonata PHEV is targeted primarily against the Fusion Energi and 13-mile Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid. Other potential competitors are the 19-mile Ford C-Max Energi using the same powertrain as the Fusion Energi and the 6-11-mile or so Toyota Prius PHEV.
All these cars are mid-sized and not included as much of a direct competitor is the compact 2016 Chevy Volt which outdoes them all with 50 miles rated electric range, but its back seat is less roomy, and it’s really in its own category in qualified terms.
Unique Advantages for the Plug-in Hybrid
The Korean automaker’s first PHEV arrives tagging behind this year’s launch of the seventh-generation revision of its Sonata line along with a next-generation regular Sonata Hybrid upon which it is based.
This was the first media event held at Hyundai’s new Leed-certified U.S. headquarters in Huntington Beach.
Pricing is not announced yet for two trim levels ranging from better- and better-yet, but Public Relations Manager Derek Joyce said in keeping with Hyundai practice, it would be competitively priced against the target market.
The Fusion Energi starts just shy of $35,000 and the Accord PHEV is just below $40,000. As far as brand perception goes, Honda has the most laurels to rest upon for its legendary engines and reliability, Ford has moved upwards with powertrain architecture sharing patents with Toyota. Hyundai however is vying to move up too, and is doing so though more will remain to be seen when the Sonata PHEV is out and actually tested.
How Hyundai does hybrids is a little different in a few respects. For one, both the regular hybrid and PHEV use a 2.0-liter gasoline direct injected engine mated to a six-speed automatic whereas the blended hybrid competitors use Atkinson cycle engines and an e-CVT.
Dimensions, creature comforts, styling and function are all competitive with sedans in this class, and we’ll have more on this in a subsequent article.
The Sonata PHEV’s 9.8-kwh battery has nearly 47-percent more capacity than the 13-mile-range Accord PHEV’s 6.7-kwh unit. It’s also nearly 30-percent bigger than the 7.6-kwh unit in the Fusion/C-Max Energis which are rated 19 miles range.
Hyundai not surprisingly sources battery cells from Korea’s LG Chem which vary in some undetermined ways from the Volt’s LG Chem cells. Hyundai terms these “lithium-ion polymer” but really they are lithium-ion and the only “polymer” is the polymer housing. “Polymer” does not speak to the chemistry.
While that detail may be a bit hidden, on the positive side, so is the battery itself. Hyundai now stashes the pack in the space normally occupied by a spare tire to free up trunk room.
The Sonata PHEV squeaks out 9.9 cubic feet compared to the Fusion Energi’s 8.2 and Accord PHEV’s 8.6, and the Sonata’s rear seats are 60/40 split fold-down.
In an interview with the general manager of Hyundai’s eco-friendly vehicle R&D center, Dr. Glenn Yong-Seok Kim, it was learned Hyundai uses just shy of 95 percent of the battery pack’s usable capacity. This would equate to a little less than 9.3 kwh though the exact number is a company secret, he said.
By contrast, General Motors in 2013 said its 16.5-kwh Volt battery had a much broader buffer, and its state of charge window used just 10.8-kwh from the Volt’s big T-pack which could never be squeezed into the spare tire well.
If this raises any concern however, Hyundai’s warranty exceeds all others and is “lifetime” on the high-voltage battery.
Battery Charge Mode
Among all plug-in hybrids in its class, as well as the Chevy Volt, the Sonata PHEV is unique in that it can use its 50-kilowatt motor generator to direct 360 volts of DC current straight to the battery bypassing the onboard 3.3-kw charger.
The feature of charging on the fly is found for now only in European upscale PHEVs such as from Porsche and Volvo. For them it is for clientele who wish to comply with zero-emission zones, or for other similar motivations.
Other makers, such as Chevrolet, have resisted this functionality saying it is a bad equation to burn gas to generate electricity and grid or renewable is far better. Others in the industry have said that Chevrolet’s decision also was made for the gen-one Volt because it got unacceptable emissions using the engine to recharge the battery, but the Hyundai is emissions complaint.
For Hyundai’s part, Dr. Kim said the motivation was to simply offer consumers the choice. A button press activates it, so it is up to them.
Whether using charge on the fly will prove economical or otherwise sit well with environmentally mindful drivers remains an open question, but it may.
The question still comes down to whether it is worth it to burn gasoline to generate electricity.
Because Hyundai bypasses the bottleneck to any PEV – the onboard charger – its solution is like having a high-power charger onboard, with much more current than a standard 30-amp, 240-volt level 2, and drivers will be inclined to use it. According to Product Planning Manager John Shon, 24 miles of range can be replenished in 30-40 minutes. At peak efficiency, ideally at highway speeds, the Hyundai may replenish at a rate equating to over 40 miles range and close to 50 miles range per hour using its gas engine. By contrast, a Nissan Leaf via level 3 may recharge up to 80 percent of its 84 miles range in half an hour, or about 64 miles range in half an hour.
In turn, ordinary U.S. 120-volt household current charge times are under nine hours for the Sonata PHEV and under three hours for 240-volt level 2.
Hyundai says the onboard charger’s efficiency can reach 91.7 percent and Dr. Kim said he would get us fuel efficiency numbers for during battery recharge mode later to help gauge real-world energy usage to help estimate how wasteful or not is burning gas to charge the battery.
In the meantime we consulted Arizona-based retired aerospace engineer and GM-Volt and HybridCars.com tech writer George S. Bower to make an educated guess.
“Instead of driving the wheels mechanically with around 3 percent loss you are going to have to go through a generator and inverter into the battery, out of the battery and through a motor,” said Bower. “It’s the classic series set up. Typical efficiencies in this mode would be generator, inverter and motor at 95 percent each; so roughly you are looking at 15 percent loss versus 3-percent loss so it would be around 12 percent worse than just driving the wheels mechanically. So your mpg would go down by around 12 percent.”
Hyundai’s EPA rating is not announced yet for the PHEV, but internal estimates are around 40 mpg combined. Highway mpg would be in the high 30s. Cutting this by 15 percent theoretically could mean 30-32 mpg while a driver is recharging the EV battery, maybe worse, maybe better.
This is not exactly gas-hog territory and could open up some very unique use scenarios. For example, one might contemplate an 80 mile drive by using 24 miles e-range to start, then switching to charge mode burning gas to replenish the battery in 30-40 minutes.
This would reduce fuel economy to be still above the average 25 mpg car sold in America, then the driver could switch back to EV mode for another 20-some emission-free miles at up to 75 mph.
Obviously this is less economical than using grid power and worse still than using carbon-free electricity, and we do not have enough data to tell you this is a good idea. But, it might be, and at very least, as Hyundai says citing driver choice, it could open up some opportunities no other PHEV in its class now enjoys.
Compliance Car Lite
The Sonata PHEV will initially be launched in Oregon and California – of course – the state Hyundai observed to be responsible for 50 percent of plug-in electrified vehicle sales.
By the fall, the automaker says 10 states will stock the car. These are California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
But, instead of locking out the rest of the country as other automakers have done with limited-market offerings, the Sonata PHEV will be available for special order in all other states.
In contrast, Ford’s Fusion Energi is available in 50 states, and at the other extreme Honda has the Accord Plug-in Hybrid sold only in New York and California.
We inquired how Hyundai would evaluate opening up more markets for the on-paper very competitive plug-in and did not get a definitive answer.
The company in its presentation explicitly said it was introducing the car to “comply” with California ZEV rules in states where these are upheld coming close to calling its car what makes others bristle – a compliance car.
As it is, because it will technically be available in all states the pejorative term does not fully fit to the extent that it would for other vehicles. Or probably this is the case, says Plug in America’s Chief Science Officer, Tom Saxton.
“The question of whether it’s a compliance car will come down to what they do if there’s strong demand: produce to meet demand or call it sold out,” he said.
Meanwhile, as Hyundai otherwise points out, it stands to fare well against the direct competitors and it does set a new benchmark – at least until vehicles like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and whatever else next comes along.
Come on, you have to admit that those hip-hop dancing hamsters in their baggy clothes that pitched the Kia Soul soon after it went on sale in 2010 were cute. For the introduction of an all-new 2014 Soul, the little guys slimmed down and buffed up at the gym for the commercial’s sound track. Hey, let’s face it, these guys are hip.
And the all-new 2014 Kia Soul that the hamsters were pitching? Like those cute creatures, the urban hatchback also underwent a transformation: A new stiffer chassis, a little longer and wider with suspension upgrades that added a bit more fun to the driving experience.
All this boiled down to a great platform to electrify.
As for the hamsters, a new fully charged ad campaign has them continuing their hijinks as young bespectacled “auto-scientists” conducting an experiment. The result: a totally electric Kia Soul EV plus, one very alluring hamster girl.
Juicin’ The Soul
Check off the Kia Soul as one more choice in a growing list of small battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). Arriving late last fall, the 2015 Soul EV inserts an electric drive system as a replacement for the gasoline powertrain found in the 2014 Soul.
Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.
Like most car manufacturers who have added electric cars to their lineups, with the exception of the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, Kia used an existing model to electrify. Unlike the others, however, Kia didn’t just shoehorn an electric powertrain in the Soul without first thinking about it — the automaker planned for an all-electric version when development began on the second-generation Soul.
This forethought placed the thin battery pack beneath the front and rear seats for optimal weight distribution and a minimal loss of cargo space. To address the additional battery weight of around 600 pounds, five cross beams are used for support.
The drive system features an 81-kilowatt liquid-cooled AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor that generates 109 horsepower and a respectable 210 pounds-feet of torque. The output is comparable with leading small electric competitors, except the Chevrolet Spark, which produces a lusty 327 pounds feet.
Power from the motor is directed to the front wheels through a single-speed constant-ratio gear reduction unit. Kia says zero to 60 mph happens in less than 12 seconds and top speed is 90 mph.
Battery size is a major factor in electric driving range. Here, the Soul EV has an edge over the pack of small electrics, where 21 to 24-kilowatt hour battery packs are the norm. Kia opted for a 360-volt lithium-ion polymer battery pack that is rated at 27-kilowatt hours.
Replacing the standard Soul’s gasoline engine, the EV’s drive system features an 81-kilowatt electric motor that sends 109 horsepower to the front wheels via a single speed transmission.
The Soul EV is good for 93 miles on the EPA cycle. For EV drivers, that effectively offers an additional 10 or 12 miles of driving range compared to Nissan’s Leaf or the Ford Focus Electric.
In fact that EPA 93 mile estimated driving range is tops in the EV world except for the more-than-the-twice expensive Tesla Model S. The MPGe estimate is 120 city/92 highway and 105 combined.
Kia’s lithium-ion polymer battery technology is different from the standard lithium-ion cells in most other EVs, and affords better heat management. Rather than using a liquid-based battery temperature management system to maintain optimum battery performance, particularly in cold weather, the Soul EV uses a battery heating system, which warms up the battery during charging.
Standard is a level 3 quick charge port that will give an 80 percent battery fill in just 24 minutes.
To optimize battery life, Kia engineers added a heat pump to reduce load on the climate control system.
Standard is a 6.6-killowatt onboard charger and a CHAdeMO DC fast charge port. Recharging time for a fully depleted battery using a 120-volt electrical outlet is 24 hours. The time is cut to less than five hours via a 240-volt outlet, and on-the-go charging from a Level 3 public fast charger will give an 80 percent fill in just 24 minutes.
“Driver Only” button cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.
Like several other electric cars, the Soul EV has two drive modes: Drive and Brake. Selecting Brake dials up regenerative braking to capture more of the vehicle’s kinetic energy as electricity. This not only slows the Soul quite rapidly without using the brake pedal, it can add three or four miles of driving range between recharges.
Using climate controls, either heating or cooling, can reduce driving range by as much as 10 miles. To mitigate that, the Soul EV has a novel individual ventilation feature. Activated by a “Driver Only” button, it cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.
And finally, to squeeze a smidgen more efficiency and miles of range from the drivetrain, there’s an Eco button on the center console. It adjusts certain operations on the EV system, such as sensitivity to throttle input. Think of it as a built-in hypermiler.
When Kia restyled the Soul for 2014, they wisely didn’t stray too far from the original. Even though all of the sheetmetal was new, it continued with the same boxy bulldog look with the same abrupt windshield pillar and the slightly canted-back roofline.
The 2015 Soul EV’s exterior has few deviations from its 2014 gasoline-powered donor vehicle, and most of those are aimed at improved aerodynamics — the boxy shape needs all the help it can get to reduce drag. However, there is a dramatic change up front. The small horizontal grille is replaced with a sliding door for the charging ports.
“Eco Electric” fender badges replace the “Soul” fender garnish found on the standard car, and the EV has its own specific 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped with specially engineered Super Low Rolling Resistance (SLRR) tires. The tires give up some grip but offer 10 percent less resistance than standard low rolling resistance tires, helping to improve range.
Exclusive to the EV are four different two-tone color choices, an inspiration from the 2012 Track’ster concept vehicle.
In other words, the Soul EV is the hippest looking electric five-seat transporter in town.
Green Inside, Too
With the 2014 Soul makeover, inside is where Kia stepped up. The cheap, basic look was cast aside, replaced with styling that is sportier and feels more premium with soft-touch materials in all the right places.
For the EV, the automaker reduced its petroleum footprint by using eco-friendly materials. About 53 pounds of bio-base plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane are used in door panels, headliner, seat trim, roof pillars and carpeting.
Soul EV‘s dash layout is clean and simple with all controls within easy reach of the driver.
The cabin is roomy for the class and is a comfortable place to hang out like the hamsters do. Backside is 24.2 cubic of cargo space behind the rear seat. Since the battery pack doesn’t intrude into the cabin, the 60/40 spilt seats can be folded nearly flat to offer 61.3 cubes.
Sitting high with an excellent view of the road ahead, the driver can easily grab information from a pair of crystal clear gauges that use Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology.
The driver can quickly and easily see a very accurate driving range and battery displayed by the right instrument panel gauge, as well as the drive system’s operation in a centered LCD display.
The right gauge has a combination analog and digital speedometer. The left displays an extremely accurate driving range, as well as battery level and an eco-driving guide. A centered LCD displays trip information or audio sources.
Additional EV drivetrain information can be found on the 8-inch center touchscreen that features the navigation and Kia’s UVO infotainment systems. UVO can do everything from showing maximum driving range on top of a map to displaying how much juice is used when headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals are operating.
: Rear seat comfort is pleasing with a surprising amount of legroom for a compact hatchback wagon.
From UVO smartphone apps you can check current charge status, remotely start or stop charging and see the car’s location. Other apps connect with favorites such as Pandora, iHeart Radio and Yelp.
Kia offers two versions of its electric car: the base Soul EV and the Soul EV+ (Plus), both very well equipped.
The base model has an MSRP of $33,700, plus $850 destination charges, not including any federal or state incentives. Standard features include a rearview camera; heated outside mirrors; tilt-telescoping steering column; heated steering wheel and front seats; power windows; navigation and infotainment system; Bluetooth connectivity; and a six-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary jacks.
Our Soul EV+ test driver had a sticker price of $35,700 plus, the $850 destination charge. It threw in leather seating; heated and vented front seats; heated rear seats; power-folding exterior mirrors; fog lights; and park-assist for the front and rear.
Chargin’ Down The Road
“Range anxiety” is a term now firmly imbedded into the electric car lexicon. The 2015 Soul EV eases that anxiety, and we found that 100 miles was easily the norm. After learning to use the B mode effectively, we tallied 110 miles on day four with the wagon, ending the day with the dashboard indicating 4 miles of range remaining.
The only time the EV failed to live up to its claimed rating was during a couple of hours of play time. That consisted of several zero-to-60 test runs as well as determining what kind of cajones, if any, the little electric-box-on-wheels had on one of my favorite backcountry roads with lots of twisties.
Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.
As it turned out, the Soul EV was more fun to drive than I anticipated. The battery pack’s mass was offset by its placement under the floor, and the low center of gravity gave a planted feel through corners with scant body lean. Combine that with engineering changes to the suspension and additional torsion rigidity, and other small EVs seem uninteresting and detached. That said, the steering is not tuned for sportiness, but the key words are, it’s fun to drive.
Electric motors deliver all their torque instantly, so the Soul had an always-eager feel around town with the single-speed transmission aiding in direct linear velocity.
Don’t be put off by its leisurely 0-60 mph spec of around 11 seconds. The Soul EV might take a couple of extra seconds to get to full highway speed from a complete standstill, but all-out sprints like that are rare. When already traveling at 50 or 60 miles per hour, immediate power is readily available to push the wagon to its top speed of 90 mph.
Whether traveling on the Interstate or in town, this is a very quiet vehicle with minimal electric motor whine compared to other EVs. Also appreciated, when bumps or potholes were encountered, we weren’t bothered too much.
When the Soul EV arrived, Kia said it would only be available in California, Oregon, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — all states that follow California’s zero emission mandate for automakers — and would expand sales to other states later on. That indicates this is a compliance electric vehicle.
Initially, it was only on sale in California and Oregon. Since then, the automaker quietly added Washington State in February — one dealer — and hasn’t commented about additional availability.
It may not be your cup of tea, but the Soul EV has an unmistakable quirky charm, which by its self will attract perspective EV buyers. Add the 93 mile (or more) driving range, spacious interior and the fun-to-drive factor, and it is a contentious competitor to all the other small top-selling electric cars: Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen’s E-Golf. Perhaps even BMW’s i-3.
In my opinion, the Soul EV, for the reasons above, is by far the best small electric car I have driven. If Kia ever decides to expand nationwide, it has the potential to cut into the Leaf’s market dominance.
Yes, the Soul EV’s base price is close to the Leaf’s top-end model, but it does have a boatload of standard features. And, for those who prefer leasing, the preference of most EV buyers, Kia’s best deal is $249 a month for 36 months compared to the Nissan’s $199 per month (California).
But wait, the Kia Soul EV has something the Nissan Leaf and all the others just can’t offer — fun lovin’, cool, hip hamster spokesmen.