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Kia Optima feels the sting

Cool kid: Customers could face a wait of three to four months for their Stinger V6 (left), but sales of the Optima mid-sizer (below) have dropped by almost 50 per cent year on year.

Slow sales of Kia’s Optima blamed on declining segment and new Stinger

Kia logo18 Jan 2018

By TIM NICHOLSON

KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) says it is committed to the Optima despite the mid-sizer being the only model in the company’s line-up to experience a sales decline last year, with the Stinger performance sedan partly to blame.

While Kia is struggling to keep up with demand for the instantly popular Stinger, its Optima has followed the downward trajectory of the mainstream mid-size passenger car segment that is haemorrhaging sales to SUVs.

KMAu chief operating officer Damien Meredith told journalists at the Detroit motor show that the company would not drop the Optima, but admitted that the success of the Stinger has had an impact.

“We are not going to get rid of the nameplate, we are going to keep the model,” he said. “We just have to work a bit harder in regards to how we position it, what pricing strategy we will use with it. There are a few tools we can use to get its volume back to where it should be.

“But has Stinger affected Optima? You’d probably have to say yes to a degree.

The other thing is, I think we have just got to work harder and make it work.

We have made all of the other models work. They are all climbing in (sales) figures that are better than the previous year. So there’s a bit of work to do.”

Last year Kia sold 727 Optimas, which is a 46.5 per cent drop over its result from 2016, the year the fourth-generation model was launched.

The Optima was 10th in the segment last year, beaten by the dominant Toyota Camry (23,620) in its final year of Australian production, as well as the Mazda6 (3647), Ford Mondeo (2959), Volkswagen Passat (2463), Subaru Liberty (2023) and the Hyundai Sonata (968) and i40 (888) siblings.

Looking at the whole new-vehicle market last year, the sub-$60,000 segment was one of only two market segments in which every single model experienced a sales decline.

The other one was the sub-$100,000 upper large segment that includes just two models – the discontinued Holden Caprice and the Chrysler 300.

Mr Meredith said KMAu would look at a stronger finance offer and consider re-pricing the Optima when the updated version arrives in Australia towards the end of quarter one this year.

“My personal viewpoint is that I don’t want discount the car dramatically in regards to its price point, but if we have to get to our 90 to 110 (units) a month, then we will have to look at it.

“We won’t be scared to do it. We have got to be thorough in how we treat Optima in the market against its competitors and how it sits in regards to Stinger.”

The Optima line-up includes the base 2.4-litre 138kW/241Nm four-cylinder naturally aspirated Si from $34,490 plus on-road costs and tops out with the 2.0-litre 180kW/350Nm turbocharged GT at $44,490.

The Stinger in four-cylinder guise ranges from $45,990 to $55,990 and is powered by an uprated 182kW/353Nm version of the engine from the Optima GT.

“Do you have the GT in it or do you go down to an S model and an Si model? Take the GT away so there is focus on the 2.0-litre Stinger,” he added. “There are all of these things we have got to look at and make a decision on how we are going to treat Optima.”

Mr Meredith said it was still an important model for the brand as it represents a turning point for Kia.

When the previous-generation version launched in 2011 it was lauded for its striking design, penned by Peter Schreyer who has since gone onto become president and is credited with helping transform Kia.

When asked if Kia was just pushing against the tide of declining medium car sales in Australia, Mr Meredith said Kia had grown its share in other declining segments.

“A lot of manufacturers have moved out of the small car segment. We have grown our volume in that. Are people moving out of the medium car segment? No they are not. Has that market diminished dramatically? Well it has diminished. We have just got to give Optima an opportunity.”

KMAu is having the opposite problem with its Stinger performance hero, with Mr Meredith confirming that it has been so well received that there is a waiting list for deliveries of the 272kW/510Nm V6 variants.

“We start our advertising next week. We haven’t done any advertising at all. We are still limited by numbers. There are a lot of dealers that have customers waiting for the cars, ostensibly V6, in regards to three months or, four months out.

“Any dealer you talk to they are very, very happy with how the car is going.

And we are too. We are very happy with how it’s going.”

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