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How Australians got the Kia ute over the line to take on the Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu D-Max and Nissan Navara

Kia Australia has played a pivotal role in getting Project TK (that might be badged Tasman) over the line with HQ in Korea.

By now, everybody knows Kia is developing a mid-sized ute to take on the best-selling Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.

We also know that Project TK – which may or may not be badged Tasman as per recent patent applications, because the brand won't confirm the all-important name for the time being – will launch before mid-2026, with an array of styles and grades to make it as competitive as possible.

But we can now reveal the extent of the Australian drive behind the ute, and how a small yet dedicated group in Sydney helped get the Tasman, Kosciusko, or whatever it ends up being called, over the line.

According to Kia Australia's (KAU) newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer and industry veteran, Damien Meredith, TK is the most exciting project in his long professional career, adding that the hard work has only just begun.

"It's been a long, long trail...," he admitted to the Australian media in Sydney last month.

"It's been a bit of a moving target, in regards to specification, design and pricing. Those things are always churning away in the background, but we're getting closer and we're happy about that."

Meredith said that Kia's head office in Korea signed off the project after he and his team, including product planning boss Roland Rivero, demonstrated the potential rewards in taking such a big risk in an established market.

To that end, he revealed that Kia's business case is based on a 10 per cent slice of the mid-sized ute market in Australia. Based on last year's total segment numbers of 200,000-plus sales, that would equate to over 20,000 units annually.

"We said (at the beginning of the TK project in 2018) that where we were taking the brand and where we were developing the dealer network, we believed we could probably do 10 per cent of that LCV (Light Commercial Vehicle) segment. And that hasn't changed.

"It's a lot, and it's very, very important to us."

Regardless of the eventual success or otherwise of the so-called Tasman, Meredith, Rivero and their team have already broken boundaries within their global organisation, by sticking their necks out, taking control and shouldering much of the responsibility.

"We are (in a sense) going our own way," Meredith admitted.

"The ute may not even make it to Europe because it's been developed predominately for our market.

"I think KAU has earned our stripes or at least earned some credibility, that Kia has gone so far as to look at a product for our market that won't be for North America or the European market.

"It's an incredibly exciting time for Kia as a brand in our market, because we're not being seen as having to only piggyback off other major markets, we're being given the opportunity to make our own mark and bring a product to market that's mainly for us."

Should Project TK/Tasman prove to be a commercial success, would it mean Australia might help shape an Isuzu MU-X, Ford Everest or even Toyota Prado-rivalling wagon version that may follow later on in the decade?

Meredith shut such speculation down with a resounding 'No plans for anything like that!' reply, but Ford Australia was saying much the same thing at the time after the game-changing 2011 T6 Ranger was released but before the Everest was announced, so who knows?

Watch this space!

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