People Still Want Cars and Minivans, Kia Exec Says, but There's Some Things Kia Just Won't Do
As market share swings rapidly towards SUVs and crossovers, automakers have had to sit down with their accountants and crystal ball to map out a product strategy for the future. The questions swirling in an executive’s mind are easy to imagine: Are cars worth it? Is it still useful having a minivan in the lineup? Does the future call for crossovers, not cars, in every size class?
Fiat Chrysler’s American divisions have already pulled out of the compact and midsize car market, and forget about the possibility of a subcompact. Minivans? Nah. Ford Motor Company’s non-truck lineup looks to be headed down a similar road. At Kia, however, there’s not one or two, but six passenger cars on offer, spanning the subcompact to full-size premium segments. Like minivans? They’ve got ’em, too.
Is this a smart strategy for a brand that saw its sales fall 8.9 percent in the U.S. last year? Sure, says Kia’s vice president of product planning — it means certain buyers aren’t being forgotten. Not everyone wants a crossover. One thing Kia won’t do, however, is follow its corporate sibling Hyundai down certain product paths.
Speaking to Wards Auto, Kia Motors America’s Orth Hedrick believes cars are still worth the automaker’s time. A next-generation Forte compact sedan launches this year, and the old model actually saw its sales rise by 13.8 percent in 2017, even as the segment shrunk 2.2 percent as a whole.
“It’s still a 2 million(-unit) market,” Hedrick said, referring to the compact cars. Better fuel economy, when combined with decent interior room, can sway buyers away from a pricier crossover, he claims. The new Forte is expected to top the previous model’s fuel economy by 3 mpg, with greater interior room.
“One thing we always remind (people of is), when you want to move to a CUV there’s a premium involved,” Hedrick said of the market’s shift towards utility vehicles. “To get the same price point (of a compact car) you have to (buy a small CUV), and I think for a lot of folks going all the way down to an HR-V or a Trax or Soul doesn’t work for them.”
The upper ranks of the Kia car hierarchy holds two very dissimilar models: the rear-drive Stinger sport sedan, which bowed for 2018, and the front-drive Cadenza. According to Hedrick, the first model will not gain additional variants, nor will Kia turn it into a sub-brand. “If it takes off, we prefer to keep the focus on the Kia brand,” he said.
As for the relatively low-volume Cadenza, last year’s sales topped those of 2016, but were still down (though not drastically) from years prior. “There’s spots in the market that still want a big easy-driving, front-drive sedan, or easy-riding (sedan),” Hedrick explained. “That architecture of being upright and having a larger backseat appeals to a segment of the buyers we still want to serve.”
But what about the Sedona minivan, which lost 46.2 percent of its volume last year? There’s still some Baby Boomers who want it, Hedrick claims, so for now it stays.
Overseas, Kia sells a B-segment crossover called the Stonic. Not so in the U.S., where Hyundai is currently rolling out its Kona subcompact crossover. Hyundai won’t stop there, either, with an A-segment CUV reportedly on the way. That’s not something Kia wants.
“We have a lot of coverage in the marketplace now, and that is not a priority at this point,” said Hedrick. “I think we would see more opportunity in C-segment (CUVs) then we would in A- or B-(segment models).”
You aren’t likely to see a pickup truck in Kia’s future, either. Despite Hyundai pressing the “go” button on one — and possibly two — pickups, its sister brand will not follow. “It’s a fierce battle. You have to go into it eyes wide open,” Hedrick said of the wildly competitive, U.S.-dominated field.
There you have it — a defence of the car, but not by an automaker associated with Detroit, tail fins, or the heady postwar era. (Granted, the company’s verdict could easily change by the end of the year.) Now, if Kia could just save the manuals, please and thanks.
[Images: Bozi Tatarevic/TTAC, Kia Motors]
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