Kia Australia is on the verge of securing the pint-sized Picanto for local import, with CEO SH Cho currently at the automaker's South Korean headquarters to hammer out a deal.
The company's Australian subsidiary is confident Cho will succeed, and bring back the Picanto as a new entry-level model to sit below the Rio with a projected drive-away price of $14,990.
But don't expect a full range of models. With demand for auto transmissions strong even in the sub-light class, Kia will only take the Picanto in a five-door automatic configuration, with a 64kW/123Nm 1.2 litre petrol four-cylinder under the bonnet.
It could arrive as soon as November this year, though a more likely date would be January 2016.
However, if Kia can push through a proposed deffered-payment finance plan for university-age students (one of the core target demographics of the Picanto), a November or December launch would be ideal to capture that group before the start of the first semester of 2016.
The finance plan would allow students (or the parents of students) to drive away in a Picanto without having to make any repayments until the conclusion of their study - or, presumably, the sale of the car.
However, there's also the possibility that Kia Australia may elect to wait until midway through 2016, when an updated Picanto will likely become available with a six-speed automatic rather than the four-speed auto that's presently available.
"At the moment there's still discussion on whether it will be more viable to wait until the new model mid-next year with the hope that it's going to get a six-speed 'box in it," Kia Australia PR boss Kevin Hepworth said to the media yesterday.
"Or whether we launch the car as it is now with the four-speed box, five door, one specification, 1.2-litre engine, single-spec at $14,990 drive-away."
"There's a couple of areas that still need to be clarified on it."
But while the Picanto will offer a five-door bodystyle with an automatic as standard for less than $15k, Hepworth says Kia Australia is not anticipating much sales cannibalisation for the Picanto's slightly larger cousin, the Rio light hatch.
"We're moving Rio up to get it out of the way of Picanto, and that's why there won't be three grades of Picanto," he said.
"There will be one grade and it'll fit in with a $14,990 price. Rio will be $16,990 with automatic and five doors."
There are no plans to chase bargain-bin pricetags either.
"It's not and never will be a $12,990 car, it's not a cheap car, it's not a giveaway car."
Expect formal confirmation of the Picanto's arrival in the coming weeks.
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