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Kia Optima on borrowed time
Ignored Kia Optima faces heat from all sides as medium sector contraction continues
12 Jun 2018
KIA may kill off the Optima in Australia by the end of next year if sales do not pick up dramatically, despite a recent facelift that has seen minor specification improvements and slightly lower pricing.
With the popular Cerato now growing in size and space in its latest fourth-generation iteration from one side and the larger Stinger turbo rear-drive liftback flagship putting pressure from the other, the medium-sized four-door sedan range is stagnating in a segment that seems to be in terminal decline.
Kia only managed to shift 237 examples in the first five months of this year even though the latest model (from $33,390 plus on-road costs for the Si 2.4 and $43,290 for the GT 2.0 turbo) has been on sale for a number of weeks now, for a 35 per cent drop compared to the same period in 2017, in a class that is down more than 25 per cent.
For comparison, Kia has recorded 896 new registrations of its Stinger sedan in the first five months of 2018, while its Cerato has found 7747 new homes.
While strenuously denying a decision has been made to withdraw the Optima from Australia, Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) product planning manager Roland Rivero admits that it may be harder to justify importing the sedan range if monthly registrations do not build upon the dismal 46 units recorded in May.
“Optima has declined since the Stinger launch, and at the same time that medium segment has continued its decline,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the all-new Cerato in Adelaide last week.
“But having said that, we have no intention of quitting Optima. It will be a nameplate that will continue, as it still bridges the gap between Cerato and Stinger.
“The segment is on its way down, but at the same time we’re being quite realistic on how much a medium car can do in the market at the moment.”
Mr Rivero added that the Optima will continue in Australia even when the Cerato gains a turbo-petrol sporty/luxury flagship with independent rear suspension (in place of the regular torsion beam back axle) late this year or early in 2019.
“We still need a vehicle that fits between the Cerato GT, which will probably be in the low-$30,000 mark, and Stinger Si, which starts from $46,990,” he said.
“We’ve done a bit of a realignment strategy (with the new facelift). Prices have come down over $1000, and we’ve taken out spec that probably most people don’t appreciate anyway, so we’re giving it another red-hot go, in light of a Toyota Camry that is no longer coming out of Altona.”
However, with medium-sedan buyers migrating on-masse to SUVs, the European-market Optima Sportswagon will not be brought in to help rescue the series in Australia, even in plug-in electric vehicle form that would give the latter a point of difference as fuel prices rise.
“When looking at a car in the $50,000 to $60,000 segment the market is heading straight to SUVs,” Mr Rivero said. “And as much as I would personally like one, the market is not on my side when it comes to a wagon Optima. And if you look at every other medium wagon, the market is heading downwards.”
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