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Kia Australia acknowledges that the bold look of the new 2022 Sportage is a polarising proposition –but it also believes it will be a sales hit for two particular reasons.
Speaking to CarsGuide, Kia’s local product planning boss, Roland Rivero, said he believes the extra space and local tuning will allow the Sportage to stand out in a crowded and highly-competitive mid-size SUV market.
The Sportage currently sits seventh in the medium SUV sales chart, behind the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail and Subaru Forester. However, Mr Rivero said supply of the out-going model is severely restricted because it’s currently in ‘run-out’ mode.
If the new Sportage can provide the kind of sales boost typically associated with a fresh model, it could help propel the brand past both Ford and Hyundai and into third place on the over sales scoreboard.
While Rivero admitted the new ‘Opposites United’ design language of the new model won’t be to all tastes – “you’re either going to love it or hate it” – but the added room will make it more appealing to families. It will also help the Sportage fit better within the Kia SUV line-up that has added the Niro, Stonic and Seltos in the years since the previous Sportage arrived.
Mr Rivero points specifically to the better separation between Seltos and Sportage as a major advantage for the new model.
“What it has, and what it will offer above the others, is it addresses the weakness of the previous models in the range and that’s the space and practicality,” he said.
“It’s grown overall substantially, especially the wheelbase. So, it will have much more cabin space.”
While other details of the car remain limited ahead of its arrival in showrooms, Rivero admitted the boot is significantly bigger than out-going Sportage, which had 466-litres of space, with the new model in the “high 500s.” That’s despite all models coming with a full-size spare, even models equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels.
The other unique selling point for the new model will be the fact it remains locally-tuned by Kia Australia, even though engineers from South Korea are unable to enter the country during the COVID-19 lockdown.
However, local ride and handling specialist, Graeme Gambold, and the rest of the local team have been able to continue working by sending data back to the Korean headquarters. Then development shock absorbers are created and shipped to Australia in batches for local evaluation and further feedback.
While more time consuming than pre-lockdown methods, Mr Rivero is adamant it’s worth it. Hyundai also ran local development programs but has stopped during the pandemic, which means the latest Tucson, Staria and Genesis GV70 missed out and takes an overseas suspension tune.
While Mr Rivero admits there are “extreme circumstances” where it cannot be done, such as the Niro arriving locally towards the end of its European product life, Kia Australia will continue to tune locally despite the pandemic.
“We’ll never give that up,” he said. “It’s an important part of our DNA and we don’t want to lose that.”
However, the big caveat for the success of the Sportage specifically, and its impact on Kia’s overall sales hopes, is the on-going semiconductor shortage. Mr Rivero admitted the new model could be supply constrained during the remainder of 2022 and that “visibility is a bit hazy for the rest of the year”.