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No sub-$30K Kia Optima in sight

Tough gig: Kia Australia is still working on expanding its Optima range with base 2.0-litre engine, high-performance 2.0T and a hybrid powertrain.

Overseas demand thwarts Kia’s range expansion plans for mid-size Optima

18 Aug 2011

KIA Motors Australia may delay the introduction of a sub-$30,000 entry-level Optima variant well into 2012 or even later, acknowledging this week that it is continuing to assess availability and supply issues surrounding its mid-sized sedan.

The new-generation Optima was launched in January in one highly specified 2.4-litre ‘Platinum’ variant priced from a value-laden, private-buyer-pitched $36,990, but strong overseas demand and the unavailability of a 2.0-litre engine has kept it to just 500 sales and a 1.6 per cent share of the mainstream medium-car market year to date – well behind the fleet-friendly Camry on more than 10,200 units and a 32 per cent share YTD.

This is also despite the fact that sales of the market-leading, Australian-built Camry are down 24 per cent this year.

With Australian Design Rule certification already completed, the Optima range was expected to expand with the addition of base Si and mid-series SLi models, with the Si to feature a 2.0-litre GDI direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

Aimed primarily at the fleet and budget family car end of the market, the 2.0 GDI is a variation of Kia’s new ‘Nu-series’ petrol engine, delivering about 125kW of power to the front wheels. This is in contrast to the regular Optima’s naturally aspirated 2.4-litre GDI direct-injection four-cylinder unit that pumps out 148kW.

17 center imageCurrently, a 121kW 2.0-litre ‘Theta II’ four-cylinder petrol engine is available in some countries to serve the lower end of the market.

However, there is no sign of the 2.0-litre GDI engine in any Optima variant sold abroad. GoAuto also understands that, in any case, production remains geared towards higher-volume markets such as the United States and South Korea (where it is sold as the K5).

To help free up supply, Kia has began manufacturing the Optima at its Georgia plant in the United States, which will take some of the pressure off the South Korean facility that supplies most of the rest of the world’s Optimas – including those destined for Australia.

Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) spokesman Kevin Hepworth told GoAuto this week that a decision about the future of the 2.0-litre GDI models had yet to be reached.

“We are still assessing the business case (for the entry-level Optima),” he said. “We don’t have a definitive date as to if or when the car will come to Australia.”His comments follow KMAu chief operating officer Tony Barlow’s admission to GoAuto at the Australian International Motor Show in July that new variants of the mid-sized Optima launched earlier this year, including a 2.0-litre engine, would not be seen before 2012.

“We have to look at the new 2.0-litre when it becomes available,” he said. “We have to basically have a look as to whether or not that’s going to be a fleet car and whether or not we are going to be focusing on getting it into not only business fleets but governments as well.”A six-speed manual version of the 2.4-litre GDI was also under consideration but appears to be now off the agenda, while as we have previously reported the Australian subsidiary is increasingly unlikely to gain access to both a high-performance 204kW/365Nm 2.0-litre turbo-petrol and low-emissions 2.4-litre petrol-electric hybrid version of the Optima due to production priorities in the US and elsewhere.

Similarly, the upcoming Optima CRDi diesel is also on the local distributor’s wish list, although meeting the expected high demand from Europe means that Australia is not a top priority.

Meanwhile, while there is no sign as yet of a rumoured Optima wagon, it is believed that a swoopy two-door coupe to rival Nissan’s Altima – another big-selling mid-sizer in the US that, as GoAuto has exclusively reported, is due to be sold in Australia when the redesigned model becomes available in 2013.

Speculation is gathering strength that an Optima Coupe concept car is under consideration for one of the US motor shows in the not-too-distant future.

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