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Kia Australia hopes for Asian utility

Gone but not forgotten: Kia’s K2900 light truck was discontinued last year, but it might have a replacement made in South East Asia in about three years.

Light truck factory might be built in South East Asia, says Kia Australia executive

Kia logo9 Jul 2014

By RON HAMMERTON

KIA’S new chief operating officer in Australia, Damien Meredith, has his fingers crossed for a new light-commercial vehicle (LCV) factory in South East Asia for the Hyundai-Kia partnership, potentially in three years.

While Mr Meredith stressed that Kia had no new LCVs in the pipeline, he did not rule out a change to that situation a few years down the track.

“At the moment there is about a nil per cent chance of getting anything in regard to that,” he said. “Nice to think of, but there is just nothing on the drawing board.

“The reality is that – this is just my opinion – I don’t think either Hyundai or Kia will have a light commercial (ute) in their range globally until there is a factory built in South East Asia.”

Pressed on how soon that could be, he said: “It is probably three years away.”

Although Mr Meredith did not speculate on a location for such a plant, Thailand is the obvious choice, as the one-tonne pick-up production capital of the world.

All of Hyundai and Kia’s major competitors have such plants there, churning out vast numbers of utes for global consumption, including Australia where four Thai-built utes made the sales top 10 last month.

Such a plant would not only fill a major product gap for both Hyundai and Kia, but give the Korean brands a solid foothold in the ASEAN zone that so far has been dominated by Japanese brands such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Hyundai Australia especially would love such a vehicle to take the fight up to Mazda as Australia’s leading full-line importer, as well as the local manufacturers Toyota, Ford and Holden.

Hyundai’s iLoad is number-two in the van segment to Toyota’s HiAce in Australia.

These days, Kia has no LCVs in its Australian range, but previously offered the now-defunct Pregio van and K-series small trucks such as the 1.5-tonne K2900 that was discontinued in January 2013.

As a former sales director of Hyundai Australia, Mr Meredith would have intimate knowledge of both Hyundai and Kia’s forward model plans.

Another vehicle on his wish-list is a small SUV to slot into the range below the medium-sized Sportage to rival vehicles such as the Holden Trax, Mitsubishi ASX, Subaru XV and Ford EcoSport.

Sales of such vehicles are up 14.5 per cent this year.

“The word (from within Kia) is that for mature markets like Australia and North America, there is nothing on the agenda at this point in time, but there is an SUV being done for the Chinese market,” he said. “I would love to get into one.”

Mr Meredith said Kia Australia had to first “earn our stripes” by achieving its sales goal of 5.0 per cent market share before it would have the leverage to ask for new models such as a small SUV.

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