By on February 21, 2018

2019 Kia Forte Sedan

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.

2017 Kia Cadenza - Image: Kia

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 oneand 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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61 Comments on “People Still Want Cars and Minivans, Kia Exec Says, but There’s Some Things Kia Just Won’t Do...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    God bless ’em.

    • 0 avatar
      dougjp

      Exactly what I was going to say.

      A brilliant strategy to cover the bases in a changing market, instead of just blowing with whatever the current wind is doing. Mid term planning for tomorrow may not work, what if gas prices go up? What if a blowing with the wind manufacturer drops out of a segment? Sales of cars still happen and to whom then….

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Better fuel economy, when combined with decent interior room, can sway buyers away from a pricier crossover”

    But do they want to sway and cut the profit??

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    KIA is in a bad way. Optima sales down 1/3 from like 3 years ago. Sorrento sales down 1/4. Soul sales down 20% last year! Sportage sales down like 10% but overall very strong. Forte sales way up the last 2 years- good for the Forte, bad for KIA as I imagine its margins are razor thin compared to the Optima. Compact competition is strong and about to get stronger with the new 3/Jetta/Focus around the corner, as well as Hyundai’s nicely refreshed Elantra. This thing just doesn’t quite excite, even for a mainstreamer. We will see what happens

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Forte is made in Mexico, so they should be fine. Optima on the other hand is US-made

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The past couple of years have been rough in Kia (at least here in the US), but some of that downturn is due to cutting back on fleet sales and some of it is due to an aging lineup.

      Things should start changing with a new Soul and Forte on the way, along with the Telluride and facelifts for the Sorento and Sedona.

      Could also use a greater supply of the Sportage, but the Sportage is in heavy demand over in Europe (Kia need to increase supply by starting Sportage production at its plant in Mexico).

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    I’m glad they’re planning to keep the Cadenza around. I’m exactly the buyer they are looking for. I’d love to own a big easy-driving sedan. My boy-racer – if it only had 500 HP – track-ready car – days are far behind me.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      There’s a newish Cadenza in my parking garage. It’s a sharp looking car.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged Miata Man

      FWIW I’m on my second Cadenza, a 2017 SXL. It’s shaping up to be my favorite out of the 15+ cars I’ve owned.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Glad that Kia is keeping the Cadenza around (much rather have that in SX-L trim than something like the ES).

      However, would like to see Kia improve the handling and steering feel w/o compromising the ride quality (as Hyundai had done for the Sonata’s facelift).

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged Miata Man

        Both steering feel and cornering are significantly better than on the ’15 Premium I had before. Overall ride quality seems about the same; my only complaint (for both cars) is that it loses a bit of composure over washboard-like road surfaces.

  • avatar
    arach

    I know everyone’s giving them slack, but I’m honestly investing in them. I think they have the right strategy.

    Everyone else is looking 6 feet ahead of them. They are looking 1 mile ahead. They are tripping and falling all over the place, but I don’t think they are idiots. It takes a lot of resolve to do what others won’t.

    But you can call me an idiot too. Lets rehash this out in 10 years.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Depends on a variety of factors, namely CAFE. Should CAFE go away, the market may diversify more. Should it stay the same, look for more and more vehicles to take the form of something that qualifies in the rules as a “truck”.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Kia has significant presence in markets that still have strong car demand with decent margins. Most of these models couldn’t survive if their sole market was NAFTA. It’s an incremental dumping ground for extra capacity.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      This is probably fair. The Forte seems to be built to a price point below what the US market demands in this segment.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        That’s the current model – the new Forte is on par with the Civic when it comes to the interior (and better than the new Jetta).

        Also, the reason why Forte sales increased last year was due to greater supply (due to the start of production from Kia’s Mexican plant).

        Saw a similar rise in Optima and Sorento sales when production started in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      xtoyota

      Let us not forget……KIA improvement in quality….Big warranty
      and nice looking cars :=)

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I’m surprised they’re so hell-bent on keeping the Sedona. It is, by a wide margin, the worst seller in the segment. Ford and GM tried the butch crossover-like minivan, and theirs failed as well. Gone are the days when the Sedona sold on price to a family under a strict budget. People who want a nice minivan simply have too many choices, many of them that have distinct advantages over the Sedona.

    • 0 avatar

      The Sedona (Carnival elsewhere) is a big seller in the S. Korea market, so I’m betting sales there alone justify its existence.

      This just reminded me of how Hyundai had the Entourage (also a Carnival) here for a very short time.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Right – the Sedona in Korea is also seen as substitute for limos (there’s a limo grade version) which used to be dominated by GM vans.

        Part of the issue is that the Sedona offers less utility than the other minivans (going more for a CUV-like interior), but could really use an upgrade in its powertrain to improve fuel economy (which is coming).

        It also sells well in other markets such as Australia (Carnival) being the far and away sales leader in the “people mover” category.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I think, those who bought the original Sedona, got burnt so badly by its
      “reliability”, they might just left the brand altogether

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Perhaps you’re referring to the pre-2006 Ford-based product. The prior generation (2006-14 I think, including my 09 Sedona) are pretty good. Actually, my 09 is by far the best of the 4 minivans I’ve owned; the worst was my 05 Odyssey.

        However, I wouldn’t buy today’s Sedona because its utility was destroyed when they bolted the middle row seats in place.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Despite its looks, the first-gen Sedona wasn’t Ford-based. It was on a Kia architecture, and Ford had nothing to do with it. And, really, since the second-gen Windstar and first-gen Sedona both debuted for 1998, I doubt if it’s anything more than a styling coincidence.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Just by looking at the pictures, I am talking about generation that included 2005 model. Oh, few people I know had the rodeo-like experience

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          We’re in the same boat. When it finally comes time to trade in my ‘08, I’m going to be looking for a ‘14. Because the second row of seats came out of the van the day we brought it home and have been in storage since, while the third row stays stowed except for rainy day tailgating at the race track.

          Which is a shame because, based on the service the current model has given me, I don’t want to look sat any other alternative. And a Kia is first consideration on my list when it comes time to trade my car in. Only complaint I have with them there is they want to shove you into an automatic too quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      Jason Lombard

      Just back from a week’s vacation, where I spent a total of 16 hours in a ‘17 Sedona courtesy of Hertz. It was my first time in a Kia product of any kind as well. Perhaps my expectations were low (likely), but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how it rode and drove. While it’s certainly no Sienna or Odyssey, compared to the low mileage Town and Country I drove a few months ago, the Kia was better in almost every way (save the stow-and-go seating in the Chrysler, which is awesome). It’s also significantly cheaper than the Japanese competition. Were I shopping for a FWD minivan (not a likely scenario), I might just give the Sedona a look.

  • avatar

    I think Kia will always be second fiddle to elder statesman Hyundai, so they can afford to venture into lower volume areas, and have quirky product like the Soul.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Kia sales are about 85% of Hyundai’s, so they’re not that far behind.

      I’ve always been curious as to why Kia’s Sedona has survived so long, while Hyundai’s Entourage failed in just a couple model years.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Kia outsold Hyundai for the 1st time ever in Korea in 2016.

      Hyundai retook the lead last year on the strength of sales of the new Grandeur, but in many markets Kia is neck and neck with Hyundai (including here) in a # of markets, the Kia product is more popular than the Hyundai counterpart (such as the Sportage in the UK).

      • 0 avatar
        aquaticko

        I think we could see interesting developments between these two. What with Kia not originally being part of Hyundai, and Hyundai seeming to have an inconsistent trajectory against Kia’s consistent improvement, I’m curious if we could get to a point where Kia buys back its shares from Hyundai and the two become fully independent. There are a lot of organizational factors which dramatically inhibit this happening, but it’s not impossible, and Kia is at least as determined a company as Hyundai is, if not more.

        • 0 avatar

          “Kia buys back its shares from Hyundai and the two become fully independent.”

          Given the scale of the organization aside from the cars part, this seems unlikely.

          What I think is interesting is the ceiling placed on Hyundai vehicles by Genesis. It is not possible now to take Hyundai cars much further upscale than they already are. That will have to be covered by Genesis. I can see them sacrificing some Hyundai standard car sales figures to bump luxury Genesis ones.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    They’ve got the Niro, so I can understand passing on the Stonic. It’s bad enough that the Niro and Soul will be competing for sales, and the Forte5 is not to be forgotten there either.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Except the Niro is a niche seller.

      Passing on the Stonic makes more sense if the next Soul does indeed get AWD (as been rumored).

      What’s weird is that Kia will then have 4 crossover-like models of similar size in the Soul, Niro, Stonic and the production version of the SP (which is destined for BRIC markets) with the SP looking more upscale than the Stonic.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    I’m sorry, what six passenger cars do they make? Or anyone else for that matter? Not SUV, CUV or minivan, a real honest to goodness car.

  • avatar
    ajla

    When’s the Stinger 5.0L coming out?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      February 31st, 2019.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      There have been rumors of Kia testing a Stinger with the Tau V8, but it remains to be seen if it gets anywhere beyond that.

      There has been increasing talk of Kia possibly doing a performance variant like Hyundai’s N-division despite previous denials.

      But with H/K’s Theta III engine expecting to push out 300HP in turbo form with the next Lambda V6 turbo likely to pass the 400HP mark, probably won’t see a V8 in the Stinger until the next gen Tau V8 (which is likely to go down in displacement and add turbos).

  • avatar
    Menloguy

    Kia also has a spiffy sportwagon called Cee’d in Europe. Could they perhaps take a risk on selling a sportwagon in the US? The VW Golf is the only compact wagon that I know of that is sold in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Looks a lot like a Niro, and I’m sure it’d steal Elantra hatch sales, but it is pretty spiffy.

      The sportwagon idea is interesting, though. I’ve always thought Kia’s most natural competitor is actually VW.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The new Ceed (no more apostrophe) not only come in estate form, but in a shooting brake which is a bodystyle that is likely to get the Proceed GT variant.

      Would be an absolute shame if Kia didn’t bring that over.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Steph, this part of the piece confuses me.

    “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.”

    Are you saying FCA doesn’t sell a minivan?

    What, then, is the Chrysler Pacifica? Or the Caravan, for that matter?

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    How many K900s have they sold? Eight? Nine?

  • avatar
    RicohKY

    If they want to find an under served niche, how about the mid-sized wagon like the Sportspace. The only midsize wagons are the Outback and high end makers. As a 50 y.o. who enjoys kayaking and biking; the lift to the roof of a CUV is a bit much. Not to mention the cost in MPG and handling. Why does Europe and Asia get all the wagons? They should try some market research.

  • avatar
    YouFredo

    Speaking as a former Rondo owner, there is something missing here. Bring it back!!!!

  • avatar

    It did not take the Koreans long to surpass Detroit in producing quality cars. FCA and Ford’s future look to be nothing more than selling dull square-looking SUVs and Trucks. I wish America could have an interesting car company like Kia. I am so tried of under engineered and awkward trucks and SUVs we are getting both from Ford and FCA. At least GM is trying to produce a few interesting cars.

    What a disgrace!!!!!!


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