Helped along by an attractive seven-year warranty and a range of solid, good-looking products, Kia has worked its way into the Top 10 sellers here.
Kia has entered the Australian charts with a bullet.
The South Korean brand is shaking free of the old cheap ‘n’ cheerful label, firing into the top 10 on local sales charts with a solid product spread and brilliantly reassuring seven-year warranty.
Kia grew its sales by a whopping 28 per cent last year, selling about 54,500 vehicles, and it is off to a flyer in the first part of 2018.
Remember, just three years earlier, Kia sold barely half that figure.
Increasingly too, Australian consumers are grabbing some of the richer, more expensive models, including the new sporty Stinger GT.
Though limited by supply, new rear-drive Stinger is going gangbusters, with 90 per cent of demand for the 3.3-litre V6.
GT/GT Line versions also account for 80 per cent of Stinger sales, reinforcing the belief from within Kia that the brand is now accepted by many more Australian car buyers.
“Ten per cent of Kia sales are for purchases above $60,000,“ says Kia Australia’s managing director Damien Meredith.
“Not bad for the cheap and cheerful car company,” he said drolly, referencing Kia’s positioning in the market a few years ago.
Though about to be superseded by a new model, its Cerato shone last year, lifting by 43 per cent and leapfrogging from 12th to fourth in the small car segment.
The Sportage mid-size SUV also proved popular in a growing segment, jumping 23 per cent.
The new seven-seat Sorento has been solid too.
In total, 6852 compact 1.4 Rios were sold last year, up 13.2 per cent on the previous year’ and ahead of the VW Polo, but trailing the Hyundai Accent (17,578), Mazda2 (12,101) and Toyota Yaris (11,226).
The Carnival is the most popular people mover on the market and the Picanto is doing well in a highly populated light segment.
The only poor performers in the line-up have been the small and versatile Rondo and the Optima mid sizer.
Sadly, the Rondo’s future is under review here (damn: we like it), while the Optima will get a mid-life facelift in about six weeks’ time, to make it more competitive with the Toyota Camry and Mazda6.
Earlier overseas reveals show a freshened front and rear for the Optima, new alloy wheels and more technology.
The prettied-up sedan gets a bolder front bumper with three-part lower LED lamps and grille with vertical slats.
Kia interiors are generally well received and the 2018 Optima’s cabin has a different four-spoke multifunction steering wheel, new LED ambient interior lighting and luxurious quilted leather option among a new line-up of trims.
Kia Australia hasn’t indicated just what the Australian spec Optima will get or what price it will wear.
The current Optima sells between $34,490 and $44,490.
AEB – autonomous emergency braking – is under ongoing discussion at Kia with Meredith insistent that it will eventually be sold in every model.
Meredith believes AEB should be included across all market segments, more so under ANCAP’s tougher 2018 crash safety standards.
The 2.0-litre Stinger S and Si, the two entry models, will be the first to have AEB added.
The coming new Cerato is giving Meredith and his product team some headaches though.
Meredith is desperate to keep the new model at the same, crucial price point as the outgoing Cerato — a raging success and currently offered at $20,000 drive away.
“Pricing is crucial in the small segment,” Meredith said, pointing to the slide in sales of big brother company Hyundai’s i30 Hatch, which won critical acclaim but was burdened by a higher price tag which resulted in a sales drop of 26 per cent. (Hyundai reacted by re-introducing a new i30 cheapie at $19,990 plus on roads).
Meredith wants to include AEB in all variants of its new Cerato (the sedan is scheduled for May/June with the hatch following in the fourth quarter) while keeping the low price point.
The Cerato is a crucial model to ongoing Kia growth.
“The need to put AEB into your base models is nearly compulsory,” he declared, indicating pessimism that including the safety feature in a car priced under $20,000 may be a tough ask.
“We will try very, very hard to have a Cerato in at $19,990 — whether it be manual or auto we haven’t decided yet.”
Thinking out aloud, Meredith asked: “Would you settle on $19,990 without AEB, or would you go to $20,490 with AEB?”
Last year, Kia quickly revised the specification of its cheapest Picanto hatch to include the feature, much appreciated by distracted and inattentive drivers.
Despite our acknowledged love of sporty cars, Kia has confirmed the GT Line (a flashier sporty side brand) won’t be seen on the Rio compact.