Kia aims for a bigger slice

AFTER watching sister brand Hyundai soar up Australian sales charts in recent years, bypassing once-invincible Ford along the way, Kia has admitted it wants more of what the others are having. A lot more.

Kia Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith said that Kia expects to “hopefully get to five percent market share in three to four years time”. Last year it snared 2.6 percent of the Australian market.

But he also admitted Kia needs to make a “step change” by turning around the perception lag in buyer’s minds.

Despite a major improvement in its product line-up – both visually and dynamically – many punters still think of Kia as one of Korea’s battlers, and past horrors such as the Mentor, Credos, Pregio, Spectra and original Sportage don’t help Kia’s cause.

With 2014 market share bubbling along at an unspectacular 2.7 percent (compared to Hyundai’s 8.9 percent), Kia’s share of the Korean giant’s footprint in Australia is split disproportionately, says Meredith.

In most other markets, the Hyundai/Kia sales split is 60/40, whereas in Australia it’s worse than 75/25.

The solution isn’t cheaper cars. “We won’t try and get [a five percent share] by selling Cerato at $17,990,” he said, though Kia won’t rule out considering a 1.6-litre Cerato price starter to sit below the $19,990 1.8-litre S.

The answer, apparently, is “smarter test drives” – inviting former and current customers to drive the latest range – showing off its product in high-volume areas such as shopping malls and airports, continuing its sponsorship of the Australian Open and possibly a seven-year warranty, like that offered in Europe.

With a goal of having each of its model lines among the top five sellers in their respective classes, it’s the mediocre Cerato that is causing consternation at Kia’s Aussie HQ.

Despite a unique local suspension tune, the Cerato is neither distinctive enough nor visible enough to rate high on small-car buyer shopping lists. Currently, it sits at number 11in its class.

As for the Cerato’s European relation, the Ceed, Meredith said “it’s probably worth looking at [as a replacement]” given the Euro car’s multi-link IRS, sexier styling and its close ties to Kia’s Proceed GT three-door hot hatch.

What Kia needs is time. And patience.

Given the classy styling and likeable nature of its Sportage medium SUV, an imminent facelift (due November) for its funky Rio small car, and a forthcoming all-new Carnival MPV (due December), there’s every chance Kia has a shot at convincing Aussies its cars are no longer throwaway appliances.

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