Hey, Kia! What about a ute?

Despite the fact it doesn’t have a ute in its armoury, Kia was the only top 10 player to lift sales last year.

This at a time when the best selling car and many of the top selling vehicles in Australia are now in fact sports utilities.

Parent company Hyundai revealed late last year it will be offering its new Santa Cruz lifestyle ute in North America from next year.

Australia will also get a Hyundai ute, though its is more likely to be a more direct competitor for the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger that finished one-two in last year’s sales charts — dual cab 4×4 utes being the most popular choices.

Hyundai has often declared that a serious pick-up is an imperative for the Australian market where a heavy towing, 1000kg payload and genuine go-anywhere off-road ability are hugely desirable. 

Where Kia sits in the future model plans is hard to fathom. 

It hasn’t managed to secure sibling alternatives to Hyundai’s successful iLoad and Imax commercials, although it has found a small though profitable niche with its Carnival people mover (due for replacement in the third quarter). 

Hyundai Santa Cruz 02

Hyundai’s Santa Cruz concept.

A ute has long been on its wish-list too.

You may remember our story from 2018 year where Kia put “dibs” on a ute.

As early as 2017, Kia Motors Australia confirmed a ute “of Kia quality with a local suspension set-up” will be added to its range in 2021, 

But any current questions directed at Kia about a ute for its line up – specifically when it will fill this large and vital gap, and with what – bring a maddening and firmly schtum response.

“No comment,” are not the words we wanted to hear. 

So we asked Kia’s spokesman to comment on his ‘no comment’ retort?

“No point in commenting on something that doesn’t exist.”   

Okay, then.

Though tight-lipped about the possibility of a ute, the Kia brass is happy to speak more openly on other products.

A planned roll-out of electric shuttle vehicles for the 2020 Australian Tennis Open, designed to draw attention to these inbound models, was stymied by robust demand overseas — knocking Australia backwards in the queue for Kia’s EVs.

Kia Australia’s Chief Operating Officer, Damien Meredith said: “We wanted to tell a sustainable technology story at this event. We thought it was a great story for the brand in Australia, but we couldn’t get supply of those vehicles.”

Australia’s tardy take up of EVs across the board hasn’t helped either, with supply priority going to markets that have legislation in place to ensure there is a lower CO2 output than here.  

Kia has revealed it will have 11 dedicated electric vehicles on sale globally by 2026, as part of a plan to have 25 percent of sales come from some sort of electric power within the next five years.

“We’re hoping production increases significantly so we can be a bigger part of the [electric car] push globally,” Meredith said.

That said, Meredith is a pragmatist, who isn’t sure if EV take up will meet objectives.

He draws comparisons between heavily populated Europe and Australia with its huge, inland empty spaces.

Questions are yet to be answered about whether large numbers of Aussie consumers are happy with the electric vehicle purchasing poser?

This includes the currently sparse infrastructure, absence of incentives/subsidies and a willingness to pay a premium for feel-good EV ownership.

Every manufacturer has invested heavily in EVs and all have optimistic projections. 

Meredith is more cautious than many, listing some hurdles.

Many Australians believe in the possibility of tackling an annual interstate drive — say Sydney or Melbourne to the Gold Coast.

This, Meredith insists, plays a big part in the percentage of punters who might opt for an EV.

He’s not anticipating any buying frenzy without serious infrastructure to overcome range anxiety, while pricing remains an impediment.

Meredith senses lower (realistic) pricing will help increase appeal, but infrastructure and legislation are keys too. 

“If we want a cleaner world  the Government’s role is to help infrastructure, so we can drive from Sydney to Melbourne safely,”’ he said.

The recent widespread bushfires, with significant widespread power outages, underscores another real issue for EVs, Meredith says. 

No power puts the EV fleet going nowhere.

“It’s a lot easier to get petrol and diesel for vehicles caught in the fire area,” he said.

But, even with reservations about the future of electric propulsion, a couple of Kia EVs – the e-Niro and e-Soul — are still high on the Australian arm’s wish list.

But wanting doesn’t mean getting them.

Kia finished sixth in the national sales charts last year, improving in a market that dipped to its lowest point in eight years. 

And Australia’s #6 is greedy for more . . . predicting another record for the brand in 2020.

“We think we can probably grow between four and five percent this year,” said Meredith, adding that having a full calendar year of Seltos, Kia’s new compact SUV, will help sales, despite supply constraints.

The arrival in the last quarter of a new baby Kia SUV, called the Stonic, built on the Rio platform and sized below Seltos, will also help sales numbers.

It will take on the likes of Mazda CX3 in the emerging light segment.

Helping Kia’s acceptance with consumers is its ground-breaking 7-year warranty.

Meredith won’t rule out even longer cover, maybe as extensive as 10 years.

 “Apart from MG and SsangYong, other manufacturers have used [their seven- year warranty] as a marketing tool.

“They have come in and out. Even Hyundai has been in and out. I don’t see any value in that.”   


CHECKOUT: Confident Kia puts dibs on ute

CHECKOUT: Bushfires and bad news for car dealers

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