It’s been four months since Kia’s last new model arrived in Australia, with the hot-to-trot Pro_Cee’d GT debuting back in March.
The next few months will be similarly quiet on that front, but, by year’s end, the Korean carmaker will begin to ramp up for a trio of launches.
First cab off the rank will be a facelifted Rio hatch, which, although yet to show its face anywhere in the world, will be in Australia before the year is out.
Kia Australia PR chief Kevin Hepworth told journalists in Melbourne this week that styling changes will be relatively minor, but extensive work has been done under the skin.
Those changes will be thanks to the company’s local tuning program, which sees the ride and handling of all Australian-delivered Kia models modified to suit local conditions.
Plenty of tweaks have already been made to the existing Rio range for Australia, but Hepworth says buyers can look forward to “significant” improvements to the light car’s comfort and dynamics.
The Rio presently sits in 5th place in Australia’s light-car market, with 4305 sales year-to-date. It is led by the Swift (4506), Mazda2 (6616), Yaris (6573) and its own stablemate the Hyundai i20 (7736).
New Kia Australia Chief Operating Officer, Damien Meredith, told press this week that all Kia models should manage at least fifth place in every segment.
The Rio is there now, but Kia will be looking to its new marketing campaign - which will trumpet the brand’s local tuning and build quality - to give the little hatch a push that could land it in fourth place.
Carnival Coming To Town
The all-new Carnival will open proceedings for Kia Australia in 2015, and the company is already confident of record sales.
The ageing Grand Carnival (the new model will drop the name baggage) lost its people-moving sales crown not long after Honda’s all-new Odyssey van hit the scene in March.
Sales figures for the end of June show the Odyssey on 1244 year-to-date sales, but runout sales have kept the Grand Carnival in contention with 990 sales.
In fact, June figures alone show the Kia just 30 sales behind the big new Honda, 215 to 185 for the month.
“Carnival will be number one or number two next year, I think number one. Odyssey will drop back and Carnival will take over, we’re confident of that,” Mr Meredith told press this week.
Mr Meredith is also confident of sales growth with the Carnival, beyond the 250 to 300 monthly sales it has normally enjoyed in recent years.
“The people-mover market is less than a thousand cars a month these days, and we think we can sell around 350 per month for the Carnival,” he said.
The all-new Carnival was revealed in April, revealing a more powerful look and an even more spacious interior.
The new model will also launch with a 205kW/336Nm 3.3 litre V6 engine to replace the existing 3.5 litre six, along with a revised version of Kia’s 2.2 litre diesel.
Local pricing for the new model is expected to stay close to the current range, which starts at $38,990 for the petrol S and tops out at $56,290 for the diesel Platinum.
The new Carnival is due here in early 2015 - but not early enough to replace the current model as Kia’s player shuttle for January’s Australian Open.
“Unfortunately, they’ll still be on the ship on their way to Australia at that point…” Kia Australia PR boss Kevin Hepworth told TMR this week.
New Sorento On The Way
The big new Sorento will round out the trio of Kia Australia’s early 2015 launches, arriving in the months after the new Carnival’s debut.
Spied testing in recent weeks, we can expect the new Sorento to take on a curvaceous but still muscular look inspired by the overseas Quoris sedan.
The new SUV is expected to be slightly longer, gaining a few centimetres on the 2700mm of the current model - despite sharing the same platform.
That doesn’t mean it’s not new. Kia stresses that while it looks like a mid-life facelift, the Sorento launched in 2012 is riding on an all-new platform, making it a ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ of parts new and old.
This coming 2015 model will complete the Sorento’s phased refresh, adding an all-new exterior look to the already new underpinnings.
Mr Meredith believes that the Sorento’s larger proportions and new looks will make it a bigger hit than the current model.
“With Sorento in runout, we’re doing about 260 month-in and month-out. I would hope that new Sorento would jump up to around 375-400 a month. I think it’s probably a 5000 sales per year car,” he said.
Like the updated Rio and the recently revised Sportage, the Sorento - a key model in a hugely popular segment - will benefit from a new product-focused marketing campaign.
“If you consider the potential of the SUV market, I think we’re probably a little under-done in the medium and large SUV segments. The product is excellent and so it comes back to communicating the product to consumers,” Mr Meredith said.
“It’s time for the consumer to understand that we’ve got a fantastic product, it’s put together with high quality and that’s where we’ve got to focus”.
No Niro: Kia Says Compact SUV Not Planned
In the popular SUV market, Kia's bases are currently covered by the small-to-midsized Sportage and the large Sorento. But, short of the tall Soul hatch, the company has no player in the compact SUV arena.
That’s a popular segment to be missing out on: it represents 6.5 percent of the market with 42,958 year-to-date sales, compared to 35,794 and a 5.6 percent share for the same period in 2013.
Kia’s compact Niro concept, revealed in August last year, appeared to be the first look at a planned entrant - but the company seems to have made little progress on moving the crossover to production.
At least, not for us.
“That [the Niro concept] was brought up when I was in Korea last month. For mature markets like America and Australia, there’s nothing on the agenda,” Mr Meredith said.
“There is one being done for China, but that will stay focused on that market.”
“We’d love a compact SUV, but we’ve got to earn our stripes. Once we get to five percent market share, we’ll have a bit more leverage in Seoul,” he added.