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Kia’s small cars key to future growth

Pint-sized punt: The recently launched Picanto is designed to establish itself in the Australian marketplace before a redesigned model is launched in the first half of next year, ramping up sales.

Small passenger car, SUV stable to lead Kia’s charge towards 50,000 sales by 2018

25 May 2016

THE next-generation Rio light car and Picanto micro, and a Rio-based compact crossover to sit below Sportage, are among the showroom weapons coming to Kia Motors Australia’s sales arsenal before the end of the decade.

The new models will play a key part in the South Korean brand’s strategy to reach 50,000 annual sales by the end of 2018, up from a target of 39,000 this year, according to the Australian executive team.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the updated Cerato small car this week, KMAu chief operating officer Damien Meredith said the brand’s target for 2016 was one of consolidation, with next year’s line-up one to further improve sales potential.

“The new Rio and Picanto are in the first half of the year,” he said. “We believe we can grow and we will grow in an orderly and sustained manner.

“It’s good for us, KMC (Kia Motors Corporation) and the dealer network.”

While Kia only launched the current Picanto here in April, the redesigned model due next year is expected to provide further sales growth in tandem with the well-established Rio nameplate.

“They are both new, full-model changeovers,” Mr Meredith said. “Picanto is here getting the nameplate known here it’s been a long haul so when the opportunity arose we had to go now, we’re bedding the nameplate in and we’re pretty happy with how it’s started,” he said.

Also due in the next 18 months is a Rio-based ‘CUV’ (crossover utility vehicle) to slot in below Sportage, although Mr Meredith admitted the company will need to treat the all-new model carefully in terms of its market placement and pricing.

The new crossover is yet to be seen, but Kia has shown a range of concepts in recent years – one of the most significant being the 2013 Niro – which have demonstrated its intention to enter the fast-growing segment.

Meanwhile, the larger Sorento SUV is working well for the brand, but Mr Meredith believes the high-riding flagship – which is due to receive a mild facelift in the next 12 to 18 months – could do better on the sales scoreboard.

“We’ve got to push that harder,” he said. “What we have to do is take advantage of the great press and awards that it’s won, we’ve got to push that harder so people can understand the quality of the vehicle and what it’s got to offer.”

 center imageLeft: Kia Australia COO Damien Meredith.Kia’s number-crunchers are satisfied with the sales performance of the Optima mid-size passenger car, but two models which have an overhanging cloud are the Soul and Rondo.

To the end of April, just 25 Souls had been sold compared to 70 the previous year, while only 48 Rondos had found homes – down 28 per cent – but Mr Meredith dismissed suggestions that the models were ‘endangered species’.

“We’d like to do better with them, we’d like to be doing 500 a year with both those vehicles and we’re a long way off that,” he said.

“To answer your question both those cars have a future in our model line-up, we just have to work a lot better and stronger on how we approach those two vehicles.”

Along with Sportage and Rio, the backbone of the Kia range is the Cerato small car – the brand’s top-selling model and one that Mr Meredith expects to push further ahead in its segment with the launch of the updated series.

The aim is to become a top-five contender in what is still Australia’s biggest-selling market segment, which would mean pushing past the Holden Cruze.

“We’d be happy with five (fifth position) – going from 11 to five in two years, we’re happy with that (target),” he said.

“It would be a 50 per cent lift and that would be a pretty massive effort … I think it would be a sweeping statement if I said we go to four. Consolidating in the top five, we’d be happy with that.”

Any added sales momentum from a bona fide hot hatch in the form of a Cerato GT will have to wait, as a genuine replacement for the Pro_cee’d GT hatch is – as GoAuto has reported – not expected until the new-generation Cerato with an independent rear end arrives in a few years’ time.

“As soon as one becomes available we’d take it, but that’s a next generation-car two, three or five years away. But as soon as it becomes available we’ll put our hand up for it,” Mr Meredith said.

Something he claims is not “not even on the horizon” are plans for the brand to bring Kia light-commercial vehicles back to Australia.

“I haven’t seen or heard of anything in regards to an LCV range for Kia,” he said.

“I’d like one, of course, if you had a HiLux competitor, you’d love to have one.

“We’re pretty happy with our line-up and the growth that’s occurring, we’ve just to keep improving the brand in Australia.”

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