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Kia ready to turn the corner

Kia's product revival started last month with the arrival of the Rondo compact people mover.

Times have been tough for Kia. The “other” Korean brand has struggled with ageing product and the loss of a key model which has seen its annual sales tumbling. Since the company assumed manufacturer/importer status two years ago sales have fallen by almost 20 per cent in a market that has been very bullish. However, newly appointed chief operating officer Peter Nochar can see light at the end of the tunnel.

“It is fair to say we have been towards the end of our product cycle and we are on the start of a new one,” Nochar says. “Every six months or so we will have something new or something significantly improved.”

Kia's product revival started last month with the arrival of the Rondo compact people mover, a long-awaited replacement for the Carens.

Next in line is the Magentis passenger sedan facelift in August followed by a new Grand Carnival diesel in September.

“Then we get the TD sedan which is the all-new replacement for the Cerato,” Nochar says. “We hope to have it on sale by the end of the year.”

It is not certain but Nochar is quietly confident that next year will herald in the boxy, youthful Soul model; a hit in three different guises at the recent Geneva motor show.

“That will be followed by the new small coupe and then the Sorento [4WD]. It's a busy program.”

The one car that Kia will not get despite almost 12 months of manoeuvring is the Cee'd — Kia's version of the brilliant Hyundai i30.

“The issue with Cee'd is still purely an economic one,” Nochar says. “The shipment costs and the exchange rate differential with Europe means that we simply can't land the car here at a price we believe people will pay.”

The advantage Hyundai enjoys is that the Euro-designed i30 is aimed at the domestic market and built in Korea.

“If the Cee'd was built for Korea — which it is not because it is not seen as required for the domestic market — we would definitely have it, but it is not part of our planning."

“Many of the products are market specific. For example in the US they have the Mojave which is a large Landcruiser-sized V8, but that is only left-hand-drive and doesn't go to Europe, either.

“Of course we are disappointed that we can't get Cee'd because we think that European look would do well here, but there is no point in wishing for things you can't have.”

While Kia is unable to directly ride the coat tails of sister company Hyundai's skyrocketing reputation for quality, Nochar does see benefits.

“Anything that is good for the reputation of cars of Korean origin is good for other cars of Korean origin because it is customer perception of the country of origin as much as the brand."

“I don't think there is any silver bullet that can take you from a 2 per cent brand to a 4 per cent brand ... if there was we would buy one.”

The loss of the Pregio van 18 months ago hit Kia hard with an instant 5000 unit drop in sales, something Nochar is determined will be redressed this year with a target of 25,000.

“I think even within the company people say `you don't sell as many cars as you used to'. We do sell as many cars, we just don't have the 5000 Pregios we used to sell and from our dealers' point of view filling in that gap is important.

“It would be a real morale booster to get back to that level.”

While Nochar is confident the recently launched Rondo will win sales it is the arrival of the as yet unnamed small coupe, built off the TD platform, that has him really excited.

“I think the Rondo is a car for the times,” he says. “Ever since I first saw it and drove it my expectations have been above everyone else's, but of the models I have seen in the metal the small coupe is unbelievably good.

“The only other shortcut we could get to receive better recognition would be to get a very high performance version of one of the existing cars. It would show to the world that technologically we are as good as anybody."

“There are some plans for that but it is not very soon ... nothing I can feed the family with at the moment.”

 

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