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Kia Picanto can do for Oz

Venga boy: The next Picanto is expected to resemble Kia's European Venga.

Next Rio’s rise upmarket makes space for Eurocentric Kia baby to fill the void

28 Oct 2010

KIA is set to sell the Picanto in Australia after all, as it ponders how to fill the gap that is expected to be partly vacated by a slightly bigger and much better but somewhat pricier new-generation Rio light car in less than 12 months.

Although no final decision has yet been made, the sub-B segment baby is back under serious consideration to become Kia Motors Australia’s (KMAu) new entry-level model.

However, Australians will have to wait until after the next-generation versions of both Kias make their respective world premieres sometime in the first half of next year.

17 center imageLeft: Kia Venga. Below: Kia Picanto.

That is when the Mk3 Rio – the UB – brings forth a prettier and pricier but more sophisticated Kia light-car proposition, gaining a range of technological, safety, comfort and refinement advances over the seven-year-old JB version.

Penned by Sportage III designer Massimo Fraschella, the UB will go on sale around the world from May or June, with the five-door hatch emerging first, ahead of a four-door sedan and rumoured three-door hatch.

This means that the Rio’s march upmarket will leave a gaping hole in the burgeoning sub-$14,000 end of the light car market for KMAu, paving the way for the next-gen Picanto to help take over.

So far this year, the Rio accounts for about 40 per cent of all KMAu sales in Australia, and the company is not about to let this level of volume fall by the wayside.

Nevertheless, we understand that the ability of KMAu to price and position the next Picanto as competitively as the outgoing Rio – which has been retailing for $13,000 lately – is a topic of concern.

Arch rivals Holden and Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) face a similar dilemma next year when their respective sub-$14,000 TK Barina and TB Getz Rio rivals make way for more advanced replacements.

The former has chosen to fill the gap at the bottom end of the market with the new MJ Barina Spark from $12,490, while the latter is looking seriously as its i10 baby out of India as a Getz replacement, since HMCA boss Edward Lee has vowed to not discount the recently released i20 – a premium light-car proposition priced from $15,490 and yet to find its sales feet in Australia – to Getz levels, to move the brand away from its ‘driveaway’ reputation.

Whether HMCA decides on today’s ageing i10 or for the next-gen model to appear is not known, although the latter seems like the more prudent action in the face of its far-newer competition.

Nissan’s aggressive pricing policy with next month’s all-new K13 Micra – a five-door hatch with a full suite of safety and convenience items including Bluetooth connectivity – is set to give the Koreans further grief, as will an expected tide of cheap cars out of China.

The Mk2 Picanto, known internally as the JA, is rumoured to be heading for a world premiere at the next Geneva motor show in March.

It will use an all-new structure, and shares components with the UB Rio as well as the related Hyundai i20 – so it won’t be a cheap car to produce.

Along with a huge leap in safety (the current model can achieve no better than three stars in the Euro NCAP ratings), an all-new 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine in naturally aspirated and turbocharged guises is thought to be in the pipeline for the JA, while an electric model is also believed to be under development.

Former Volkswagen and Audi designer and Kia styling boss Peter Schreyer is said to have shaped an upright and pert evolution of the existing two-box silhouette, with strong overtones of the existing European-market Kia Venga light wagon that is built in the Czech Republic. It will be offered in three-door and five-door hatch forms for the first time.

One report says the Korean baby’s cabin has been benchmarked against the Volkswagen Polo’s for design and quality.

The next Picanto will replace a watershed model in Kia Motors’ history the original SA – built off a shortened Getz base – became a breakthrough vehicle for the Korean company in Europe when launched in 2004.

Gaining a strong following and critical praise, it helped to put the brand on a more level playing field in preparation for the popular Ceed small car that followed.

According to Kia’s president of the Middle East and Africa region (and until recently also in charge of Asia/Pacific), Byung-Tae Yea, the next generation Picanto and Mk3 Rio will spearhead a light car renaissance for the brand in the same way that the latest Sportage compact SUV and Optima medium sedan have.

“The next Picanto is a very important car for Kia,” Mr Yea said.

“It will be a more global car … and far more competitive. We are very, very excited.”

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