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European SUVs fly the flag for Kia, Hyundai

Euro source: The Hyundai ix35 SE comes from the Czech Republic.

Boom sales for Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage coincide with new European sourcing

Kia logo8 Jul 2013

EVER thought Kia and Hyundai just make Korean cars? Think again, because two of their best-selling models in June were actually made in eastern Europe.

Recent decisions from both car-makers to source compact SUVs from Europe instead of Korea appear to have paid dividends last month, with both the ix35 and its Sportage twin achieving record sales.

Kia last month announced it would look to its Slovakian plant as a source for all Australian-market Sportage soft-roaders in a bid to get a more constant supply of cars.

The Korean company was beset with supply woes for the current-generation model – one of the first of Kia’s stylish new designs penned by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer – since launch in 2010, because the Korean plant that made ours could not keep up with global demand.

Conversely, as the European market struggled, factories such as Kia’s Slovakian facility suddenly needed new places to send their wares to keep production lines ticking over. Enter Australia.

The company’s local arm announced the switch to Slovakian-built models in mid-June, at which time it is understood to have had enough units on the ground to make a substantial impact on last month’s sales figures.

The results are stark – Kia sold 817 Sportages in June, which is almost double its previous record month of 462 units in July 2012. Sales for the month were up 79.6 per cent over June last year.

European Series 2 Sportage models added extra features such as HID headlamps, cornering lamps, partial leather seat trims, a rear seat warmer, front wiper de-icer and an economy mode on the diesel automatic version that dulls the throttle response and optimises the gearbox to chase fuel economy.

More importantly, the strong (albeit now weakening) exchange rate helped Kia cut the starting price to $25,490 before on-road costs – cheaper than most rivals.

June’s sales boost was not all down to the European sourcing, since Kia Australia has also offered driveaway deals and factory bonuses. But having more stock, and therefore keeping more buyers away from waiting lists, played a part.

“The strength of the Sportage is extremely pleasing, particularly in light of the decision to source the cars from our Slovakian factory where we are confident supply will be more consistent,” Kia Motors Australia chief operating officer Tony Barlow said.

This news comes six months after parent company Hyundai announced that it would import a Czech-made petrol-powered special edition of the ix35 called the SE to supplement its local, supply restricted Korean-made range. Two months later in March, the company added a diesel version.

The resulting supply boost has helped propel ix35 sales to new heights in 2013, with sales up 65.9 per cent year-to-date – enough to overtake the Nissan Dualis as Australia’s most popular small SUV. Its 2225 sales in June was the highest figure for an SUV since the Ford Territory in 2005.

HMCA general manager of public relations Bill Thomas said the European-sourced SE accounted for 1149, or 51.6 per cent, of all ix35 sales in June.

The company doesn’t attribute all this sales growth to having more supply, with Hyundai – like Kia – offering driveaway deals last month. But, says Mr Thomas, “it does show what's possible when we secure increased supply”.

Unique features include a Euro-specific front bumper with fog-lights, projector headlights with dusk sensors, power folding side mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels and darker rear window tinting. The cabin gets leather/leatherette seats (heated in the front) and a chilled glovebox.

Also fitted to the car is a rear-view camera integrated into the auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

Petrol versions of the SE cost $3000 more than the base, Korean-made Active, but diesel versions are $2600 cheaper than the next most-affordable oil-burning version.

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