Go Small: Eager to Boost Market Share, Kia Again Hints at a Tiny Ute

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
go small eager to boost market share kia again hints at a tiny ute

If Hyundai can do it, why not Kia? After the Korean automaker’s corporate sibling launched the A-segment Venue at this month’s New York Auto Show, Kia Motors is again hinting at a small, sub-Sportage utility vehicles that’s yet to arrive.

Unlike the Venue, however, Kia’s planned entry won’t be of the front-drive-only variety.

Speaking to Wards Auto, Kia Motors America’s chief operating officer, Michael Cole, says a small, all-wheel-drive crossover is “in our product strategy for the future.” It’s something we’ve heard before.

Last fall, Kia Motors Corp. CEO Han-Woo Park said his company planned to bolster the brand’s U.S. utility vehicle presence in the hopes of boosting flagging sales and delivering a healthier SUV-to-car-ratio. At the time, light trucks represented only 41 percent of Kia’s U.S. volume, and the continued lack of a subcompact (or smaller) offering continues to hurt the brand. Park wants to see a 60:40 mix.

“We expect our performance in the U.S. market to rebound soon,” Park said.

The unnamed small crossover will arrive in the second half of 2019, Park said, hot on the heels of the Telluride SUV. Park’s words, and Cole’s omissions, seem to point to a wholly new vehicle, rather than an AWD version of the Kia Soul, which switches to the GB platform used by the AWD-capable Hyundai Kona for 2020.

Last fall’s report claimed the vehicle will be based on Kia’s SP Concept, which shares its mechanicals with the overseas Hyundai Creta. Since then, Kia has shown off its SP Signature concept — a small crossover based on the next-generation Creta’s SP2i platform. Slightly longer than the Venue, the Kia and its Creta stablemate would be available with AWD. Kia also sells the Stonic overseas, a subcompact crossover that borrows its platform from the Kona, but the Stonic — like the Soul — is only available in front-drive guise.

Despite subcompact, FWD domestic offerings like the Nissan Kicks and Toyota C-HR, Kia feels the need to offer more capability in its small ute. The Soul already works well for the brand, generating boffo sales that show no signs of flagging.

Speaking of that model, Cole said “it plays the part of sort of getting into that (small) SUV (sector), and also we can compete in some of the markets as a (car)…it fits in both. It does that job for us.” The Soul is not in need of additional buyer appeal; Kia could generate more profit from a separate AWD model with a slightly higher price point.

As for Kia’s U.S. sales, those are looking up. While last year saw the brand top 2017’s sales tally by just five vehicles, the first quarter of 2019 shows sales up 8 percent, aided by the addition of the Telluride.

[Images: Kia Motors]

Join the conversation
  • Vulpine Vulpine on Apr 30, 2019

    The original definition of 'ute' was a car-based pickup such as the Ranchero, El Camino or even the new VW Tarok concept. If it's a fully-enclosed body, then it's not a 'ute' but a crossover or SUV. Hyundai/Kia is in need of a true pickup or 'ute'.

  • NN NN on Apr 30, 2019

    looks like a Skoda, and that's not a bad thing. Kia seems to play the Skoda role in the US market: good design and more value than other brands.

    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Apr 30, 2019

      Why do you think looking like Skoda is not bad thing but looking like Western brand like e.g. Land Rover, Mercedes or Ford is a bad thing? Do you mean Skoda does not deserve intellectual property protection just because it is an Eastern European brand? And BTW it does not look like Skoda.

  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.