Korea might be home to a couple of the world's biggest automakers in Hyundai and Kia but, with the exception of concept cars, it isn't until now that the country has launched an electric vehicle. Intended exclusively for the Korean market, the Kia Ray EV shares the same dimensions as the Ray CUV (crossover utility vehicle) that was launched last month, but instead of a 1.0-liter gasoline engine, the car is powered by a 50 kW electric motor and a 16.4 kWh lithium-ion polymer battery pack that gives it a range of up to 139 km (86 miles) on a single charge.

In what Kia claims is a worldwide first for an EV manufacturer, the Ray EV's sharing of dimensions with the Ray CUV allows it to share a production line with conventional combustion engine vehicles. Although the front-wheel drive Ray EV is some 187 kg (412 lb) heavier than its gas-powered cousin, the Ray EV boasts faster acceleration (0 - 100 km/h/62 mph in 15.9 seconds) thanks to 77 percent greater torque (167 Nm). Kia says the vehicle has a top speed of 130 km/h (81 mph).

Kia says the Ray EV can be recharged in six hours from a 220 V household outlet or in just 25 minutes in fast-charge mode. The inlet for the 220 V supply is located under a flap in the front grille, while the fast-charge inlet can be found where the fuel intake is usually located on regular models. The 330 V lithium ion polymer battery pack is located under the rear seat and cabin floor.

The Ray EV has been fitted with a new type of regenerative braking system featuring an "Active Hydraulic Booster" that uses the electric motor to create hydraulic pressure for the brake system. Kia says in addition to harvesting excess braking energy to recharge the vehicle's battery, it also provides consistent brake pedal force under a wide variety of driving conditions.

Like audio alert systems already available in a number of hybrid vehicles from manufacturers such as Toyota and Nissan, the Ray EV is fitted with a Virtual Engine Sound System (VESS) that emits a mixture of recorded gasoline engine noises when the car is traveling at speeds below 20 km/h (12 mph), or when reversing.

The instrument cluster displays electric motor operation, battery status and the distance before a recharge is required. An EV-specific navigation system features a 7-inch display that provides information such as the location of the nearest recharging stations - of which there are 500 in Korea with plans from the government to increase that number to 3,100 by the end of 2012. The navigation system also displays a circular shaped area over a map that shows how far the vehicle can travel with its current level of battery power.

The Ray EV won't be available to ordinary customers with Kia currently planning to produce just 2,500 of the cars. These will be provided to government departments and public offices as part of the company's research and development program to gather real-world usage and performance data to aid in the development of future electric vehicles.

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