Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) has confirmed a ute will be added to its range in 2021, with the new model aimed to push Australian annual sales towards 100,000 units as passenger-car volume is expected to peak at about 80,000 registrations by the end of this decade.
Speaking to journalists at a media event in Brisbane this week, KMAu chief operating officer Damien Meredith guaranteed the ute will offer “Kia quality with (an) Australian set-up”.
While official details remain under wraps until KMAu receives final approval for the ute program, Mr Meredith indicated the vehicle will face off against the sales-leading Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, which are most popular in dual-cab 4×4 form.
“From what we know thus far, it’s going to be pretty suitable for the Australian market. It’ll probably be a dual-cab, I would suggest,” he said.
“We’re waiting for confirmation. What they’re telling us is it’ll be here in 2021.”
Kia’s sister brand, Hyundai, has recently moved closer to officially confirming it will build a one-tonne ute, distinct from the small Santa Cruz, which is a Tucson-based, lifestyle-oriented offering intended for the North American market.
The production Santa Cruz is expected to be SUV-based, which rules it out as a genuine HiLux rival.
Mr Meredith revealed development of the Kia ute is “definitely in-house”.
Hence, it is likely to be mechanically related to the proposed Hyundai ute, as opposed to sharing its platform with existing models, which are often co-developed products between rival carmakers.
Notable examples of this are the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger, the Isuzu D-Max and Holden Colorado, or the Nissan Navara, Renault Alaskan and Mercedes-Benz X-Class.
However, Mr Meredith was unsure if alternative configurations, like a cab-chassis, will be provided, but said “it would nice to do the whole spectrum”.
He also claimed the light-commercial vehicle will come with Kia’s market-leading warranty coverage period, providing consistency with its passenger cars.
“We wouldn’t bring the car in unless it had a seven-year warranty – that’ll be a strong sales point,” he said.
“Like all our product, we’ll make sure it’s a great value proposition in the market.”
Despite talk about its bang-for-your-buck positioning, Mr Meredith indicated the ute might sell well in high-spec guise, given a high proportion of Australian dual-cab ute buyers have a penchant for such, while October saw 10 per cent of Kia customers purchase models costing more than $60,000.
“You can say what you like about us being cheap and cheerful, but 422 customers have seen our product and laid out $60,000-plus to buy a Stinger, to buy a Carnival, or to buy a Sorento,” he said.
2018 Kia Stinger 330S.
While Mr Meredith conceded that Kia will be “late into the market” with its ute, he expressed his belief that the ongoing shift towards one-tonners will continue indefinitely.
“It’s obvious now that for people who used to buy Commodores and Falcons, there is a tendency for them to move into that area of HiLux, Colorado, Ranger etcetera,” he said.
Kia sales in Australia have been on a tremendous rise in 2017, with a full-year sales forecast recently increased to 54,000 units – representing 26.6 per cent jump year-on-year. This follows a 26.5 per cent improvement in 2016 and a 20.5 per cent leap in 2015.
At this rate, the Korean brand should reach the 100,000 sales target before the end of 2020, but Mr Meredith cautioned that more moderate percentage growth is expected from now to the end of the decade.
“We think we can probably get to 80,000 in the next three years – that’s basically 10-12 per cent year-on-year growth in that three-year period,” he said.
Mr Meredith added that the jump to 70,000 sales will be aided by a new sub-Sportage small SUV, which is set to launch in 2019.
“With 80,000 sales by 2020, light commercials on top of that, you’re probably going to be close to 100,000,” he said.
“We think that we’re probably an 80,000 franchisee before light commercials arrive. We’re pretty okay with that.”