By on May 15, 2020

While Kia has managed to add a fair number of crossovers to its lineup, successfully catching up to modern consumer tastes, it hasn’t scarified sedans to make that happen. According to the manufacturer, this is because high-riding utility vehicles fail to match the driving experience of a ground-hugging sedan — something Korean automakers have a keen interest in since Hyundai launched N-badged performance models and Kia dropped the Stinger on our heads.

Once famous for their commitment to budget-friendly models frequently mentioned in amber alerts, the duo now manufacture vehicles people actually want to buy at a price that’s frequently difficult to criticize. Following Hyundai/Kia for the last few years has been analogous to that scene in every teen drama where the awkwardly nerdy girl comes down the stairs for prom dressed to the nines and brimming with newfound confidence. Except in the Hyundai/Kia version, she winks suggestively and offers to pitch in for dinner.

Having convinced themselves that they’ve found a winning strategy, Koran automakers are doubling down on what’s worked already. That includes maintaining a clear distinction between crossovers and sedans — the latter of which Kia believes holds the secret to enjoying yourself behind the wheel. 

“The driving experience between the crossover-type vehicle and the sedan type vehicle especially when you have someone like Albert Biermann [former head of Hyundai R&D and ex-BMW M chief engineer] in your stable can be pretty remarkable,” James Bell, Kia’s head of corporate communications, told CarBuzz in a recent chat.

“One of the reasons why the Kia Telluride has done so well is because people love the look of it. And then they drive it and realize for a large crossover it feels very coordinated. Not overly athletic like a BMW X5 M. It’s not that extreme. But you can enter a highway off-ramp a little faster than you should, and it’s okay. The car can handle it. Having that athletic feel and visceral connection is something we’re going to see emphasized and amplified in our future sedan offerings.”

Having driven numerous performance-engineered SUVs, your author will admit they hold some amount of charm. Most of that comes from mixing performance with practicality and the good feeling you get when you’re towering over the car next to you. They’re at their best when you’re stuck in traffic, forced to take a lot of junk somewhere, or have the opportunity to mash the accelerator down a long straightaway. You might be less impressed if you’ve ever been inside something that can really shimmy in the corners, though.

Korean brands seem to think SUVs and crossovers shouldn’t stray too far from their original purpose. Sure, we’ll probably see an N-badged Hyundai Santa Fe eventually. But the manufacturer doesn’t see it supplanting performance sedans. A similar logic flows through Kia, which is betting on sedans not being forever shunned. In fact, it’s thinking they may be due for a comeback.

“Many people in the sedan market are either downsizing from owning a big SUV that didn’t give them that engaging drive they were looking for, or maybe their family has changed, or looking for better fuel efficiency. Today’s modern sedans, especially with the Stinger’s sloping C-pillar space, you’re able to get a lot of cargo in there,” Bell said.

However, he acknowledged that crossovers remain the hot commodity for now.

“There aren’t many compromises other than not being one of the ‘cool kids’ with a new crossover on your street,” he continued. “But perhaps not being one of the ‘cool kids’ shows you are thinking through your purchase a little deeper and smart. That’s where the future Kia sedan success is going to come from.”

In addition to coyly suggesting Kia customers may boast a higher IQ than their peers (a sound marketing strategy), Bell also issued a subtle jab about how everyone is into crossovers because they’re basically the default and trendy option. If that generalization sticks, we’d see crossovers follow station wagons and minivans back into niche segments.

While we absolutely support Korea’s commitment to sedans and hot hatchbacks, it’s difficult to imagine crossover sales imploding anytime soon. Economic issues may suppress their take rate moving forward, giving sedans some leeway, but a complete turnaround would take years (and a renewed interest in alternative vehicle types). By the time the sedan is once again sitting atop the sales throne, Kia will have probably gone through a development cycle or two. Still, that could serve them well when (and if) the time comes, as other manufacturers will have to figure out a way to reposition back to more traditional product lines.

[Images: Kia Motors]

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27 Comments on “Kia Says It’s Still Betting On Sedans...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    If no one else is making budget priced sedans it’s wise of Kia to keep something in that segment for the few who still want them. Have they thought of wagons?

    Just in case Hyundai forgot, we’re still waiting on that segment-busting Santa Cruz

  • avatar
    conundrum

    An advertorial or what? About as blatant a gushing press release rewrite as you can get and still put an author’s name to it.

    I’m sure Kia will be delighted with this lack of editing: “Having convinced themselves that they’ve found a winning strategy, Koran automakers are doubling down on what’s worked already.” Koran? Sure I know it’s a typo, but it’s a silly one.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Best Pontiac Grand Prix I’ve ever had.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Bell is playing loose w/ words.

    The Stinger is not a sedan and what he really is referencing are “sedan alternatives” in using the production version of the Imagine concept as another example.

    Still, sedans will continue to play a prominent role for H/K/G as sedans still make up a high % of sales in Korea (esp. larger sedans), as well as for China.

    • 0 avatar
      statikboy

      I think you’re being a bit picky about the use of term “sedan” in this context; the Stinger is definitely marketed to sedan buyers. It follows the same fastback form factor as most sedans currently on the market, but eschews the mailslot trunk opening that results for a much more convenient and useful liftback aperature. It’s a sedan, made better.

      I’ve never understood why Americans think sedans are more upscale than hatchbacks. Unless the hatchback is taller than it is wide, that makes it okay…

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        for a LONG time in the 70s and 80s, 2 door hatchbacks were the cheapest, bottom-rung entry-level appliances available.

        pinto, chevette, rabbit, omni/horizon, geo metro and hyundai excel buyers were looking for something new and cheap. they rarely had decent sound deadening, so the back area would amplify the road noise.

        they kept that stigma for decades as penalty boxes for people that cant afford 2 more doors and a real trunk.

        after owning 2 hatchbacks and putting stuff in them with ease that would never fit in a car trunk, i cant see myself ever driving something with a trunk.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        But there’s a reason why the 3 Series (sedan) outsells the 4 Series GC (liftback).

        The liftback is a more niche body-style.

        This is even more pronounced in South Korea where the G70 outsells the Stinger by a 3-4x margin.

        And it’s not b/c of the badge (the Stinger in Korea gets its own distinctive badging) as the Cadenza and even the significantly pricier K9/K900 outsell the Stinger by multiples.

        Bell tries to differentiate the CUV/SUV customer from the “sedan” customer by talking up the difference in driving engagement.

        But then brings up the Imagine – a performance-oriented CUV, which goes counter to his claim.

        It’s feasible that the Imagine ends up replacing the Stinger in Kia’s lineup.

        • 0 avatar
          bd2

          Now, one can certainly argue that there isn’t much difference in bodystyle between the Stinger and Imagine, just that the Imagine is “lifted.”

          Nut that’s the same argument for hatches/wagons and CUVs (CUVs being merely a lifted hatch or wagon, depending on the size).

          With something like the X4 being a lifted version of the 4 Series GC (and the X3 being a lifted version of the 3 Series estate).

  • avatar
    Rocket

    If Kia is so committed to sedans and hatches, why have they been dropping hint after hint that the Stinger will likely not see a second generation in North America? If sedans are genuinely on the comeback trail as they suggest, one could argue the Stinger is the most important in Kia’s US lineup.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’m a little surprised they’d kill the Stinger as long as Genesis is still making sedans. Even with low sales volumes it doesn’t seem like it would be too expensive to turn the next G70/G80 into a G2 Stinger.

      • 0 avatar
        Rocket

        I agree — especially considering Kia’s commitment to the ridiculously slow-selling K900. But maybe Genesis brand managers aren’t appreciating the sibling rivalry. If they offered a G70 wagon, I wouldn’t care if the Stinger went bye-bye, but we know that won’t happen.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        The Stinger required Kia to develop a separate platform (that costs $$).

        Something like the K9/K900 does not as it shares its platform w/ the G90.

        Also, the K9/K900 sells a good bit better (w/ higher margins) than the Stinger in Korea.

        Add the upcoming stricter emissions standards in Europe (at present level of emissions, Kia would be having to pay hundreds of millions in penalties, of which the Stinger would be a big contributor), that pretty much cuts off an entire market.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Well it makes sense for the Koran to be from the East. Do they face East toward Mecca?

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    I think Kia should evolve into being the Dodge to Hyundai’s Chrysler, and turn up the heat.

    Purple AWD Stinger N. 10/10 would buy.

  • avatar

    “back to more traditional product lines.”

    SUVs and CUVs are traditional products now. It is the new normal.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I think sedans will always be around but they will change. Crossovers will be a dominate vehicle in the near future and there will be more choices in pickup size as many who want a truck would prefer something more compact (myself included). Kia and Hyundai are smart to offer sedans as the Big 2 have for the most part abandoned the segment.

  • avatar
    erlebo

    Child abduction humor is not edgy enough. Try a bit harder and make some pedophilia jokes.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    Drove a Rio as a rental for a week. It was a fine little island car. Used very little gas and was easy to park on the tight streets. However, I would never own any of their products. I don’t buy cars because they are trendy. I think a lot of the Koreans success is because it’s now become trendy to own them, regardless of how good they are.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Still waiting on the Sonata N-line and the K5 GT (Optima name soon to be gone if the tea leaves are to be believed.)

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