The tiny Kia Picanto will become the Korean brand's price leader in Australia.
The compact Rio is going up in size and up in price later this year, following the Hyundai i20 across the $15,000 barrier, and the Picanto will fill its value spot. An all-new Picanto will be revealed next month at the Geneva Motor Show, when Kia will also pull the covers off its next Rio.
But Kia Australia is already pushing hard to ensure the Picanto is an early arrival, even it refuses to confirm its plan. "So we are considering very seriously for the Picanto," says MK Kim, the head of Kia in Australia. "We have negotiations with KMC. Personally, I would like to bring it as soon as possible but I'm not sure when they can release that car for the Australian market.
They have to consider the volume." The Picanto was assessed and rejected several times in the past, partly because the old car was not suitable for Australia and partly because it would have done up against the Rio.
"I think this is now the right time to bring the Picanto," says Kim. "At the time, at the former price, it would not have been a big difference in the retail price. This is an all-new model in Geneva. It is built in Korea."
Kim sees a showroom advantage in the Picanto but denies it is part of any blocking move against low-priced Chinese brands, which begin to arrive in Australia later this year.
"Last year, when I visited the Beijing motor show I thought 'The Chinese are coming' and will be a big threat to Hyundai and Kia. But not right now. I think it will take four to five years. "The Chinese will be at the very bottom. Kia is looking to move up a bit in the scale."
Sales of Kia cars in Australia could top 30,000 in 2011. The company is planning for 27,000 but the 'stretch target' set by Kia chief MK Kim is based on another year of more than 20 per cent growth. "This year, personally I'm going for 30,000. Last year the market increased by 10 per cent and we were double. With this kind of trend, with good products, I do believe we can achieve 30,000 with adequate supply."
Kim says the other objective is to increase Kia's results relative to Hyundai in Australia. "Still we are under 50 per cent of Hyundai. So every time our headquarters is asking us to do at least half of Hyundai. Critical acclaim will lead people to switch between brands. Consumers are now putting our cars on their shopping list."