Imagine A Kia Without A Soul

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
imagine a kia without a soul

Last year was a difficult pill to swallow for Kia in America. After claiming record sales in 2012, Kia volume slid 4% even as America’s auto industry grew 8%.

There were inventory issues, but there was also concern that the new Sorento, though revamped under the skin, didn’t appear new on the outside. The Forte launch didn’t send shock waves through the compact segment. The Cadenza was never expected to be a volume leader.

Explanations for the decline didn’t stop Kia from “restructuring” either, as Kia Motors America’s executive VP of sales, Tom Loveless, was replaced by Michael Sprague.

Through the first eight months of 2014, however, Kia is back on track. Compared with the same period last year, brand-wide sales are up 7%. Compared with the first eight months of that record-setting 2012, sales are up 4.5%.

Admittedly, that pace is not in keeping with the pace of expansion in the overall industry (up 5.1% year-over-year, up 17.5% compared with the first two-thirds of 2012), but it’s a sharp turn in the right direction.

Credit is not owed to the brand’s best seller, the midsize Optima, sales of which are down slightly, just 0.6%, so far this year. Sales of the still-popular Sorento, Kia’s second-best-selling model in 2012 before last year’s 12% decline, are down 5% in 2014. Forte sales are recovering, but only marginally, and it trails ten different compacts in total year-to-date sales, including the Dodge Dart. Rio volume is down 11%. The Cadenza, K900, and Sedona – Kia’s three lowest-volume nameplates – have contributed an extra 3062 sales, not enough to overcome the Sorento’s losses.

Therefore, it’s the Sportage and Soul that are doing Kia’s heavy lifting; restoring the brand’s U.S. fortunes and reversing a trend that resulted in an 8% decline in the final four months of 2013.

The difference, of course, is that the Sportage is a minor player in a booming segment, and it in fact became increasingly minor over the last couple of years. Sportage volume is up 37% in 2014, and that’s no bad thing. But that year-over-year change masks the fact that Sportage sales in 2013 had fallen to a three-year low. Compared with the first eight months of 2012, Sportage sales are up just 6%; compared with the first eight months of 2011, Sportage volume is down 14%. Kia dealers surely appreciate selling more Sportages this year than last, but it’s not the vehicle they’d credit with fuelling Kia’s most recent resurgence.

Rather, the second-generation Soul, currently Kia’s second-best-selling model and the brand’s top seller during the month of July, is the source of this moderate surge. Through eight months, Soul sales have jumped 26%, equal to 21,569 extra units. Kia passenger car volume is up 7.7% with the Soul; slightly less than level without it. Overall Kia sales are up 6.9% with the Soul; just 1.5% without the Soul.

The Soul’s improvements have helped Kia’s market share rise slightly from 3.55% at this time last year to 3.61% in 2014. Had Soul sales only remained level, Kia’s market share would have fallen to 3.42%. Meanwhile at Kia’s Soul-less Hyundai partner, the brand’s market share has fallen from 4.63% to 4.48%, year-over-year.

The Soul was expected to be a niche success. It was, after all, a new introduction from a thriving brand in 2009. But how many observers predicted that Kia would abruptly stall, and that the Soul’s consistent success (volume has increased every single year even as it aged) would be followed up by a second-generation launch on which Kia would rely for big volume?

The Soul is currently America’s 29th-best-selling vehicle overall, only a handful of sales behind the Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Jetta and ahead of the Toyota Tacoma, Toyota Prius liftback, Nissan Versa, and Chevrolet Impala.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

Join the conversation
4 of 82 comments
  • Smartascii Smartascii on Sep 10, 2014

    This sells well in part becuase it appeals to old people, who don't care one way or the other about branding/marketing/whatever, and just want a car that is cheap to own, has seats that aren't down on the ground, and good visibility. The Soul is one of the econoBOXes that doesn't have wierd styling (Cube) or poor mileage (xB), and it comes with a decent warranty.

    • Petezeiss Petezeiss on Sep 10, 2014

      +1 And what's not to like about getting all that for an average price (Edmunds) around 20 K?

  • Genuineleather Genuineleather on Sep 10, 2014

    Sorento is old and soon to be replaced; the Optima is now the oldest offering in a very competitive segment; Forte isn't compelling enough to command the premium now priced into it; Cadenza offers no additional features or space over the Optima despite the $5-7k price premium. The K900 is a joke at $67k; what's the incentive over a 550i/S6/E550? I get that it's supposed to be an S/7/A8 competitor, but those cars are status purchases, not practical responses to an actual need. Buyers are not clamoring for a "less good" version of Siebener for a knockdown price.

    • Chan Chan on Sep 10, 2014

      You're preaching to the choir. The Hyundai Equus and Kia K900 are really meant for the domestic market in Korea, where import luxury cars were taboo until recently--you really did not want to be seen in one, plus the prohibitive import taxes. People buying 7s and S-classes are NOT looking for value. Those looking for value will shop smaller cars, even the rich ones.

  • Nrd515 I don't really see the point of annual inspections, especially when the car is under 3 years (warranty) old. Inspections should be safety related, ONLY, none of the nonsensical CA ARB rules that end up being something like, "Your air intake doesn't have an ARB sticker on it, so you have to remove it and buy one just like it that does have the ARB sticker on it!". If the car or whatever isn't puking smoke out of it, and it doesn't make your eyes water, like an old Chevy Bel-Air I was behind on Wed did, it's fine. I was stuck in traffic behind that old car, and wow, the gasoline smell was super potent. It was in nice shape, but man, it was choking me. I was amused by the 80 something old guy driving it, he even had a hat with a feather in it, THE sign of someone you don't want to be driving anywhere near you.
  • Lou_BC "15mpg EPA" The 2023 ZR2 Colorado is supposed to be 16 mpg
  • ToolGuy "The more aerodynamic, organic shape of the Mark VIII meant ride height was slightly lower than before at 53.6 inches, over 54.2” for the Mark VII."• I am not sure that ride height means what you think it means.Elaboration: There is some possible disagreement about what "ride height" refers to. Some say ground clearance, some say H point (without calling it that), some say something else. But none of those people would use a number of over 4 feet for a stock Mark anything.Then you go on to use it correctly ("A notable advancement in the Mark VIII’s suspension was programming to lower the ride height slightly at high speeds, which assisted fuel economy via improved aerodynamics.") so what do I know. Plus, I ended a sentence with a preposition. 🙂
  • ToolGuy The dealer knows best. 🙂
  • ToolGuy Cool.