Small SUV sales are big business in Australia, and as sales continue to build year on year, the need to add a compact crossover to the range isn’t lost on brands that currently don’t have one, like Kia.
Right now traditional small cars account for just under double the volume of small SUVs in Australia, but where small passenger cars are in gradual decline, losing just under one percent of sales volume in 2017 compared to the previous year, small SUVs picked up by 6.6 percent over the same period.
Locally Kia has the medium and large SUV segments covered with its popular Sportage and Sorento models, but unlike competitors Kia lacks a small SUV to go up against the likes of the Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3, and Nissan Qashqai.
That won’t be the case for much longer though, with Kia Australia’s general manager of product planning, Roland Rivero, confirming that a new small SUV is under development that works around some of the issues of Kia’s existing international offerings, the Stonic (below) and Niro.
“There is the Stonic which is a Rio-based platform and there is the Niro which is a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and soon to be EV. We’ve studied both of those options for our marketplace and we’ve deemed that they’re not the right fit," Mr Rivero said.
“They’re not what Australians are looking for in a small SUV.”
Despite a funky design and on-trend two-tone colour schemes via a contrasting roof, the Stonic has been ruled out owing to its powertrain options, with right hand drive models for the UK unavailable with an automatic option deemed crucial for Australia, and the most powerful petrol engine being an 88kW/171Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo.
“It’s what Europe wants, and from a benchmark they were looking at Ford EcoSport.” Rivero explained.
“Our market’s probably more attuned to CX-3 or ASX - at least a 2.0-litre powertrain with regards to power - and that’s not something that’s on the Stonic powertrain lineup at this stage, so we are still searching for a suitable product to fill that void and we hope to fill that void relatively soon.”
While timing stands as a crucial issue for any new model entering a growing segment, it seems that even with two existing small SUVs on its global production list, the demand for a third product, particularly one with a conventional powertrain (unlike the Niro, below) in the same segment is strong.
“Fortunately for us we’re not the only market that’s asking for that gap to be filled, and fortunately for us we’re in agreement that the Stonic is not the right product. There’s a couple of markets that believe the small SUV that’s needed needs to be filled as soon as possible, and the current offerings aren’t the right offerings, and that global voice has made [Kia’s global] R&D react.”
Although Kia management wouldn’t be drawn on a timeline for a potential new small SUV, when asked if it could be another four years before filling the segment (roughly the remaining life-cycle of the Stonic and Niro), Rivero indicated a much quicker introduction.
“You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot.” He said, “We hope to respond a lot quicker than four years.”
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