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Kia begins the countdown to new Carnival

First attempt: The next Carnival will not be based on the 2011 KV7 concept, with Kia taking a different direction for the next-gen people mover.

After a year reloading the sales gun, Kia looks forward to pulling the trigger

21 Jan 2014

THE long-awaited replacement for Kia’s only segment leader in Australia, the venerable Carnival people-mover, will cap the South Korean vehicle importer’s new-model releases this year as it seeks to regain momentum after a year of consolidation in 2013.

The new third-generation family hauler will break cover at the New York motor show in April after a long and delayed gestation, but it is not expected to land in Australian showrooms until “very late in the year”.

Before then, Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) will debut its latest Soul compact wagon and European-made, oddly named Pro_cee’d GT Turbo hot hatch in the first quarter of this year, hard on the heels of the just-released facelifted Optima medium sedan.

While the street-smart Soul and Pro_cee’d GT – Kia’s second turbocharged hatch after the arrival of the Cerato Koup Turbo last year – will create some excitement around the brand, it is the bread-and-butter Carnival family bus that will help define Kia sales for the next several years.

KMAu chief operating officer Tony Barlow told GoAuto that Kia designers and engineers had gone back to the drawing board “several times” in their quest to deliver the best possible people-mover for global markets.

17 center imageFrom top: Kia Soul, Pro_Cee'd, Optima and GT4 Stinger concept.

“It is a matter of getting it right,” he said “It shows the determination of the company just to make sure the models that do come to market are the right ones.

“It is a challenge with that type of vehicle to bring the broad appeal into the design, so there are a lot of steps that have been involved in it.

“I know they have worked very hard to get it right. They have gone back to the drawing board on several occasions. So, better that they get it right, and that is what Kia is getting renowned for now.” Kia showed a people-mover concept called KV7 at the Detroit motor show in 2011, but then went back to the drawing board for a another crack.

Mr Barlow said that while the April reveal in New York was locked in, the exact launch time for Carnival was yet to be decided.

It would most likely be “very late in the year”, not only for Australia but major markets such as North America where the aging current model – called Sedona there – was pulled from the market 12 months ago pending the launch of the new version.

The Carnival will be eight years old by the time the new generation arrives, making it by far the most ancient Kia model still running and the only one not to have been touched with the modern styling brush of Kia design chief and company president Peter Schreyer.

Last year, Carnival sales slipped 22.6 per cent in Australia, to 2847 vehicles, but that was still twice as many as its nearest competitor, the Hyundai iMax, in a segment that slid 11 per cent.

Such is the Carnival’s effect on the segment that Mr Barlow believes the new model might well stem the people-mover sales decline once the new version arrives in showrooms.

“The segment’s under a little bit of pressure, but I think the stimulation (new) Carnival will give it will put some bounce in that again,” he said.

The decline in the current Carnival volumes contributed to a rare slip in overall Kia sales in Australia last year, down 3.2 per cent to 29,778 units.

Mr Barlow said that was in line with his company’s expectations, as 2013 was planned to be a year of consolidation.

He said the company had to run out its Cerato small car and introduce the new sedan and hatch during the year. Kia also switched sourcing for its best-selling SUV, the Sportage, from Korea to Slovakia, and introduced a new-generation Rondo compact people-mover.

Mr Barlow said that after 2013’s hiatus, Kia sales should lift again this year.

“We will see Cerato coming into full swing, and also the big jump we have seen with Sportage will continue on as well,” he said. “So I think it will be a good year for Kia.” Mr Barlow declined to have a stab at 2014 Kia sales volumes, saying he would reserve that for later in the year.

He was also cautious on sales predictions for the revised Optima, saying the medium-car segment was highly competitive.

“We think we will hold sales in segment, and we think there is an opportunity to grow it a little bit more,” he said.

“We have now been working with our fleet customers pretty well, and I think some of that awareness of the product will come through in 2014.”

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