Kia Australia has signaled its intention to be a more serious player in the SUV market in 2018.
The comments come after 2017 was a fascinating year for the South Korean brand - sales in Australia were up nearly 30% on 2016 and Kia launched undoubtedly the most exciting car in its history - the Stinger.
And the Stinger sure did get a lot of attention and continues to be a much talked about vehicle within the motoring community.
But, Kia boss Damien Meredith has told us that while the Stinger response has been very much welcomed, most Australian car buyers are in fact increasingly heading towards SUVs.
Speaking to Mr Meredith in Melbourne, he told us that while expectations were high for other Kia passenger car offerings, including the new-generation Cerato, Aussie buyers are increasingly opting to join the SUV fraternity.
“We believe that the trend of recent years among Australian car buyers towards SUVs will continue in 2018 and expect to segment the segment grow even further through this year.”
Are Kia ready to cash in on the SUV craze?
The brand currently has just two SUVs to offer Aussie buyers - Sportage and Sorento.
The Sportage, a medium SUV, has won plenty of sales and critical acclaim in the current generation (launched two years ago), and in 2018 we can expect to see an updated/face-lifted version arrive in Australian dealerships.
And it has been hinted at by Kia executives that the offering will gain autonomous emergency braking with that update (stay tuned for confirmation).
In 2017 the Kia Sportage managed to achieve a just over 23% improvement over 2016 with 13,448 Australian sales, however that total was still well behind rivals like Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota RAV4.
While the seven-seat/large SUV offering, Sorento, received a significant upgrade just last year, and, as you can read here, we believe it is now the leader of the pack in its segment.
“We hope to see Sorento among the top five large SUV in the sales race in 2018,” Mr Meredith said.
Last year the offering gained more better than a 12% sales jump with 4,725 leaving dealerships.
That total placed the big Kia a fair way behind traditional favorites like Toyota Kluger, Mazda CX-9 and Hyundai Santa Fe and sitting in 9th place in the segment.
How about a compact/crossover Kia SUV?
We asked Mr Meredith about the prospect of a crossover/compact SUV, similar to big-sister brand Hyundai and their recently launched Kona, and the message was to “watch this space”.
There are a couple of compact SUVs built by Kia for other markets, (Stonic and Nero), however for one reason or another, including too small an engine (Stonic), Kia Australia feels that they aren’t a good fit for local buyers.
But the Kia supremo said something was in the pipeline and that Kia headquarters in Seoul were increasingly hearing the wants and needs of Australian car buyers (and why wouldn’t they given the increasing popularity of the brand’s products here!).
Can the Kia Soul fit the gap?
Kia has tried to shoe-horn the Soul into the segment in the past - the model however just can’t seem to find a local following.
The boxy shape is popular among U.S. car buyers but Mr Meredith told us the Soul has just never been able to gain a strong following in our market.
“For whatever reason Australians have just never warmed to this style of vehicle.”
So, does that mean the Soul is living on borrowed time? No, according to the Kia boss.
He said the fact that the offering is a global model means that it makes sense to keep it in the line-up and that it “won’t be going anywhere”.
We will bring you all the details of the new SUV focus for Kia in 2018 through the year, including reviews of the updated version of the Sportage.