Sales of the boxy compact Soul, now dubbed the "popemobile," jumped around the time of Pope Francis' visit to Korea earlier this month after his ride throughout the country in the tiny vehicle was broadcast worldwide, the car's maker Kia Motors Corp. said Thursday.
The daily average number of orders received for the second-generation Soul for the nine days since Aug. 11 came to 32.5 units, up 62.5 percent from the previous average of 20 cars for all of July, according to Kia officials.
The nine-day period overlaps with the pontiff's visit to the country that began on Aug. 14, and on the final day of the religious leader's trip on Aug. 18, local orders for the popemobile hit a daily high at 52 cars, the officials said.
"The Soul isn't a brand that led the company's sales as a whole, and its monthly sales volume was pretty insignificant at several hundred units," a Kia official said. "The recent changes in sales volume has much to do with the papal visit."
Sales of the Soul for this month are anticipated to surpass the year's monthly average of 391, which industry watchers say is a surprising figure considering August is normally a slow season for car sales, with a holiday in the middle of the month, when all production is halted.
Despite the rise in sales, Kia officials said they are remaining low-key about marketing the Soul in relation to the Catholic leader as they try to refrain from commercializing religion in any way.
The car manufacturer is nonetheless hoping for the papal effect to catch on abroad, where sales of the Soul stood at 139,048 units in the January-July period of this year.
The car that first reached consumers in 2008 has been particularly popular overseas, where combined sales have reached
881,549 units. This includes 55,195 cars built abroad, which makes up 91.7 percent of all Souls sold so far.
Automakers here are also looking forward to another boom of small vehicles in the country where midsize sedans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have become the cars of choice of many locals.
Pope Francis had earlier requested to ride in the "smallest" South Korea-manufactured car to serve as his transportation in the Asian country, underlining his image as a down-to-earth religious leader eager to connect with the local people.
The Soul, though not the smallest car made here, qualifies as tiny with its 1.6-liter petro engine in comparison to the Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV that was often preferred by the former Pope Benedict XVI for ceremonial occasions and on trips abroad. (Yonhap)