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Rear-drive a must to connect Kia Stinger with Aussies

Revved up: Kia Motors Australia pushed hard to position the new Stinger as a Holden Commodore rival, rather than attempting to go up against Europeans such as BMW.

Research shows Kia Stinger will be more popular with rear-drive

22 Sep 2017

KIA Motors Australia (KMAu) needed to push its global headquarters to position the Stinger as a Commodore rival, executives have revealed, after research showed that rear-wheel drive was necessary to win “heartland” buyers that Holden confessed it will struggle to attract with its next large car.

Speaking with GoAuto at the national media launch of the Stinger in Canberra this week, KMAu chief operating officer Damien Meredith revealed that a vast number of the 7000 online inquiries for the large car came from traditionally working class areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, vindicating the $48,990-to-$59,990 positioning of the twin-turbocharged V6-powered Stingers.

“The majority of our inquiries that we’ve had came from the north suburbs of Brisbane, the western suburbs of Sydney, and the western/northern suburbs of Melbourne, yes, the heartland,” Mr Meredith explained.

“There’s a vehicle out there that still gives performance that’s rear-wheel drive –there are other cars, but probably not at $49,000 giving you 272kW.

Since 1947 it (rear-wheel drive) has been part of our DNA, so I think it’s very important.

“The more research, the more we delve into this whole rear-wheel drive thinking ... it’s part and parcel of Australian driving.”

Mr Meredith added that he believed even more interest will come from former Commodore and Falcon buyers “over a two-year period … once the performance rear-wheel drive Australian option is not available”.

While Ford did not provide a direct replacement for the Falcon, Holden will use a front- and all-wheel drive platform for its next Commodore – dubbed ZB, imported from Germany and heavily based on the European Opel Insignia – with a 230kW/370Nm 3.6-litre petrol V6 as the top model.

The rear-wheel drive 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 Stinger, meanwhile, produces 272kW/510Nm. Even the more affordable, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder Stinger makes a Commodore V6-challenging 182kW/353Nm.

KMAu general manager of product planning Roland Rivero was even more forthright about the importance of the Stinger using a rear-wheel-drive platform, pointing to his past experience at Toyota during the period where the front-wheel drive Avalon and Aurion struggled to win Commodore and Falcon buyers.

“I understand that Commodore and Falcon market well, and it’s tough, it’s tough to crack, and if your product is not quite there, you’re never going to convert them,” he said.

“The formula for us was very, very important because if we had a crack again at another front-wheel drive or even all-wheel drive for that matter, that’s still an unknown. But 60 years of the formula that has been around for that long, I think that particularly in our focus group interviews, there’s still a passion for it.

“Some of them, irrespective of the SUV market boom, still love that, and I think that we’ve got a proposition that can still cater for it. So do I believe I’ve got the best shot ever, having been through the past, at potentially converting some of these customers? Yes.”

However, Mr Rivero added that convincing global headquarters to position the Stinger as a rival for a globally-unknown Holden product rather than a BMW rival was indeed a tough sell.

“They (Kia headquarters) won’t understand Commodore and Falcon because Commodore and Falcon is really a local Australian vehicle,” Mr Rivero explained.

“So for us to be able to turn them around and make them understand the market opportunity in this particular market is very different. And really we took them through a bit of a history lesson as well, going back to the Whitlam era when protection of local manufacturing used to mean that tariffs used to start from about 60 per cent, and that history has really influenced European car pricing in this market, where you’d almost argue that pricing here is almost a bit unfair.

“It took some convincing because the fundamental issue we always had was no other market wanted to position this thing in the way we wanted it to. And it was a big gap – we were far away (from what we wanted) and we got it.

“We chipped away, chipped away. In the end it was all on the spreadsheets and a lot of number crunching was done, but the priority did become the V6 by virtue of the response we were getting (from the Australian market). So we went hard on the V6 and we explained the reasons why (we needed that pricing).”

Mr Rivero added that, once supply restrictions free up within two years and the rear-wheel-drive Commodore was no longer available, there is “an opportunity there” to sell more than 500 Stingers per month – or at least 6000 sales per year.

However, the first barrier to overcome, he believed, concerned image issues with Kia – something the brand was successfully achieving in other market segments.

“The second barrier is the stock situation, which is fairly tight going at the moment, (but) we’ve got to get through the first barrier, and the first barrier I think is acceptance of the product,” Mr Rivero continued.

“The challenge is can (buyers) switch from being Holden buyers all their lives, or Falcon buyers all their lives, to now a Korean product. That is, I think, the biggest hurdle. I don’t believe the product itself, and maybe even the pricing is the hurdle. I think the brand at the moment is probably the bigger hurdle.

“(But) if their desire is still for a rear-wheel-drive vehicle that has pretty good dynamics and is fun to drive and is probably more practical than they’ve had before, this is still a worthwhile option for them to look at”.

KMAu has said that in the first two years of the Stinger’s five-year lifecycle it hoped to achieve 250 sales per month – or 3000 units per year – with the figure potentially doubling as supply issues are resolved.

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