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New Kia passes us by

THE first Kia aimed at the best cars in Europe might miss the mark in Australia. As yet, there is no plan to bring the new model, codenamed ED (for European Design), Down Under.

It has already been overwhelmed by existing product plans at Kia Motor Australia, which is more worried about introducing the new Magentis, a short-wheelbase Carnival people mover, and an updated Cerato.

The ED would probably compete with the Cerato if it came here.

"The ED is not under active investigation at the moment because there are other priorities. We have to get a vehicle here to evaluate and check the likely pricing," Australian Kia spokesman Jonathon Fletcher says.

"We haven't yet decided on anything. Because it's been designed for Europe and will be built in an Eastern European plant, left-hand drive is their main focus. After that, right-hand drive for Britain comes next.

"Beyond that, it comes down to production capacity and how and where it might fit into our range in Australia."

The ED has just been previewed in Britain and will be launched in September at the Paris Motor Show. It was designed in Europe and Kia describes the approach as "tough not rough".

It is a five-door hatch available with four engines, from a 1.4-litre petrol and 1.6-litre diesel to a 2.0-litre petrol powerplant.

The car will be built at Kia's new factory at Zilina in Slovakia, where production will grow to include a three-door hatch and a station wagon next year.

Kia is part of the Hyundai-Kia group, but there is no indication yet of any product-sharing on the ED program.

H YUNDAI'S own plans to begin carmak ing in Europe have stalled in the wake of corruption action against company chiefs at home in South Korea.

But Kia is proud of the new hero car and confident it will do well if it comes to Australia.

"It's all new from the ground up. It looks good," Fletcher says.

"Of course, nobody here has driven any kind of version of it. But if it has been designed to compete with the Volkswagen Golf and Opel Astra in Europe, it won't have been designed to do worse than them."

While the ED simmers on the back burner, Kia is turning up the heat on other new-model plans for Australia. It has been battling to get close to sales targets that were set when it became a full factory operation earlier this year and Fletcher says a new wave of cars will help.

"Magentis is obviously the priority at present. It's coming up at the beginning of August," he says. "And we have the short-wheelbase version of the Carnival, which is more of a family wagon. Then there are facelifts of Sorento, which will be pushed out to the end of the year, and Cerato."