We've just finished up in San Diego at the launch of the 2014 Kia Soul (sit tight for our First Drive next week), and we've learned a few things about the Korean automaker's box-car future.
The Soul is a massive success – no news there.
In the main, the Soul is a massive success – no news there – with Kia officials telling us that the US is gobbling up 80 to 90 percent of production coming out of the company's Gwangju plant. Counterintuitively, it's doing so well that its demand is actually hurting the viability of potential spinoff models like the 2012 Track'ster concept shown above, along with other variants. The issue is production capacity – or rather a lack thereof. In 2012, the Soul sold 112,000 copies here (its best-ever performance) and Michael Sprague, Kia's Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications, says "we could have sold a lot more." The problem is, Kia Motors America can't get any more units, the factory is running flat-out. Thus, with the standard car selling so well, there's no room and little incentive to develop new models.
That isn't going to stop Kia from coming to market with a Soul EV, which is expected to be shown at a US auto show some time this upcoming season, but it is making it hard to justify adding something like the Track'ster or a Soul turbo. This, despite company officials telling Autoblog that they'd love to see the 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbo from the recently introduced 2014 Forte SX snugged in the Soul's engine bay. The engine fits and the new K platform is up to the task, but there's also the question of price – Executive Director of Product Planning, Orth Hedrick, tells us that such a model would likely have to cost around $2,500 more, and the automaker isn't sure they want the Soul's pricing bandwidth to extend that high, especially with the turbocharged Sportage already available.
Response to the widebody Track'ster was off the charts.
Sprague admits response to the widebody Track'ster was off the charts and the project is still very much on the table, but to hear him tell it, the model sounds unlikely as long as the Soul continues to be capacity constrained. Reading between the lines a bit, it would seem that if US demand continues to be as robust as it has been, Kia is going to have to find a way to build the Soul in North America soon – possibly by expanding its West Point, Georgia plant, which is itself maxxed out building the Optima and Sorento. Given how long it would take to build out and tool up West Point, though, it seems like the Track'ster's window of viability is closing. In the meantime, the buying public will have to be happy with the redone styling of the Track'ster-influenced 2014 Soul.