Kia Soul: Last Box Standing?

Boxes
It seemed like the automotive industry was all about thinking inside the box during the last few years, with squared-off entries from Honda, Scion, Nissan and Kia entering the market. Since the midsize Honda Element debuted in 2002, it's been followed by the compact Scion xB and subcompact Nissan Cube and Kia Soul to much initial fanfare and even commercials with lovable dancing rodents.

But is the box-on-wheels party over? It looks like consumers have cooled to the idea of driving such distinct cars. Model-year 2011 was the Element's last, and this past spring Toyota announced it's canceling the xB. Are the Cube and Soul next?

Kia soul sport
If you follow sales numbers, it's a reasonable guess that one of them is in trouble. It's likely that a lack of change hurt the Element, which remained virtually unaltered from the day it went on sale in December of 2002 through 2011. Weak sales ultimately brought down the xB; they had fallen from a high of about 61,000 units in 2006 to about 17,000 in 2011.

Things look bleak for the slab-sided Cube. Nissan sold only 711 Cubes in June compared with 1,313 the previous June. Sales have plummeted during the last six months, with only 4,085 units sold so far this year compared with 11,492 sold during the first half of 2011. Nissan, however, confirmed that there will be a model-year 2013 version of the Cube, but with a trimmer lineup. The 1.8 base and 1.8 S Indigo Limited Edition trims will no longer be available for 2013, nor will the Cargo Version Package.

The Soul's sales figures are the shining light among boxes. Kia moved 10,199 Souls off dealer lots in June of this year, down from 11,314 units in June 2011, but overall sales from the first half of 2012 are up compared with last year: 63,635 sold so far in 2012 compared with 54,984 sold from January to June of 2011.

Kia has no plans to cancel the Soul. "When we're selling 100,000 of them a year, and this is the second year in a row. ... I'd say it's kind of hard to call it a one-hit wonder. It's crossed over. I think it's a mainstream vehicle," said Michael Sprague, Kia's executive vice president of marketing.

It doesn't hurt that the Soul happens to be one of the most affordable new cars on the market. That might be saving it from relying solely on marketing to niche demographics as attempted by Toyota and Nissan with the xB and Cube.

Tom Loveless, Kia's executive vice president of sales, agrees. "As the market, knock on wood, continues to recover, we see Soul playing a very important pillar role going forward. ... Soul has become somewhat of a halo vehicle for us. It is bringing people into the showroom who we did not see before," he told Cars.com.

Tell us: Is this one trend that should stick around, or are we ready to think outside the box?

Related
Scion xB and xD to Be Discontinued
Research the Nissan Cube
Research the Kia Soul

Comments 

ForwardThinker

Do some research next time. Toyota did not cancel the xB; it was in fact not even supposed to have a second generation, but due to strong sales they did develop a second generation. At any rate, Toyota's strategy with Scion is that there will not be any established nameplates. They have publicly stated that nameplates will last one generation and then be replaced by something else, their way of keeping product fresh I guess.

And honestly I'm surprised the Cube sold even 1 unit. It is the ugliest car on the road today.

Boxes sell just fine. They're called CUVs and they tend to have slightly more blunted edges, but really don't differ significantly.

Derrick G

So what if Scion SAID that; it hasn't been their policy. In case you forgot, the tC is also in its second generation. Plus, by your own admission, Toyota would have kept the xB if it were still selling strongly. Seeing as there's nothing in the pipeline like it to replace it, that sure looks like everyone else's canceled.

xsolara

I find it interesting that the "Soul" was aimed at the young generation and when I see one an older person is driving it :=)

Anthony S.

Honestly, I'm sad to see them go. The Element is a nice alternative for people seeking a Swiss Army Knife type of vehicle, it could be anything from a cargo van to a people carrier and everything in between. Plus the durable interior made it perfectly suited to deal with things like sportingg goods to messy kids (or adults). As for as the Cube and Xb, these cars were nicely executed as well. You get abundant cargo space for the average person while maintaining the economy of a car, plus the added charm of their "quirky" looks.
As a previous poster mentioned we still have CUVs... which are nothing like these boxes. CUVs are mainly for people who need minivans but don't want to have the stigma that goes along with driving one. Granted a few are made to be capable off-road or as a work vehicle but frankly a very few are actually used for that purpose.
But what do I know I drive a GLI and plan on getting a VW JSW TDi if my family grows to the point if needing more space.

I wouldn't say this is the end to distinctive cars. These particular ones were neglected by their automakers (botched redesign of the xB that abandoned its original appeal, no redesign of the Element), or weren't great from the start (Cube). All had more problems than their looks.

If the Juke can be a success despite having minimal cargo space, a car that's ugly in a useful way can definitely find its niche.

Jim

I'm not the target demographic for the Soul, but it's not a bad car. It's economical and pretty comfy for a large guy, even if I am in my 30's. The cherry on top is my wife just loves the shape and the hamsters.

Rick Norris

As a Soul driver, I can say it is a very comfortable, roomy and fun to drive vehicle. I have not found one thing I don't like about it. Oh, and I am a few months away from 60 years old.

We've got close to 1,000 people that want to bring the Honda Element back. Join us!

http://www.facebook.com/SaveTheHondaElement

Tony Clarinski

I've been driving a 2004 Scion xB with over 100,000 miles on it for a year and a half, and I love this thing. It's small with lots of interior room, gets upwards of 33 mpg on the highway and 27-28 around town, it's extremely reliable (unlike my VW I finally foisted off on some poor guy--sorry Mike!), and by all accounts when something does go wrong it doesn't cost an arm and a leg to fix (again, unlike my piece of doo-doo VW). Further, it's a very comfortable ride and it stands out in a crowd (you wanna look like everyone else, go buy an Impala!). What's not to like about it?

jeff

As long as VW doesn't bring back the Thing I'm fine with box cars.

Derrick G

While the Juke had a much stronger June this year than last, I'm not sure I'd call 18,728 vehicles so far in '12 a smashing success. That's less than 2 months of Soul sales and while the Juke ain't cheap, it's still not really that expensive of a car, either. It's only barely outpacing the Acura TL, a much more expensive car.

The problem the Scion xb has is very simple... fuel economy. They took what was once a quirky fun box and stuck an oversized engine into it, because the American market told them they wanted more power, and once again a car company blindly listened and did what focus groups said instead of causing on raw check list numbers that sell cars.

When your market is youth (is. People with less money because they are just starting out) fuel economy is a factor.

If Toyota had upgraded the Gen xB with the same engine and did the same interior changes, they probably could have sold more and sold them cheaper than what they were for the Gen 2 xb.

LaDonna

I love my 2012 nissan cube I love the shape the push button start & the navigation system it runs great on the highway it's roomy inside don't put it down if u don't own one.

NN

Sky Corgan, I am a 100% with you! I've been looking into buying xB for a few years now, and only poor fuel economy (gosh, this is Toyota!) still holds me from replacing my Pontiac Vibe with Scion. I hope that Toyota will listen and live up to its mark on fuel economy with the next Scion xB model.

I have the same opinion as LaDonna, I love the Nissan 2012 cube for its smart features along with its looks. Its so much fun taking it on a long drive. The excitement increases manifold.

Rich Craig

As an owner of a 2011 Soul, I absolutely love it! I think it has a certain style that finds the perfect balance between being interestingly eye-catching and being obnoxious with its design (I'm looking at you, Qube). My main reason for loving it, though, is that I tend to drive my cars until they die, and my previous car was a 2002 Suzuki Aerio. I loved that car so much, but when it came time to find parts, it was impossible to find what I needed, and an otherwise perfectly good car was sent off to the scrap yard. Considering in the US that Kia sells more Souls in 6 months than Suzuki sold in 2002 across all of their models, I feel confident that when my Soul needs work in a few years I won't have trouble finding parts like I did with my Suzuki.

jyd

Let's not overthink this.

Scion - ugly, poor quality
Cube - even uglier
Element - good car, never updated
Soul - stylish, regular updates, quality and fun to drive.

tr6

Soul is not a pure box on wheels like cube. It is actually not far off from being a Golf with funky tail lights. It bridges that gap well and offers a more interesting hatchback than VW for less money.

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