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After years of Kia Australia teasing us with its plans for a proper off-road ute to take on the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, the Korean car maker has admitted that the chances of that vehicle becoming a reality are just about zero – and the reason could be a very good one.
During the past six months, CarsGuide has noticed Kia Australia’s excitement about its supposed upcoming four-wheel-drive ute starting to cool, so we asked the company’s chief operating officer Damian Meredith straight up: What’s going on? Is there going to be a Kia ute or not? The answer shocked us.
“I think it’s probably a long shot,” Mr Meredith responded.
““I think if they had have done it and planned it, then it would have been here by now,” he added.
The ‘they’ Mr Meredith is referring to are his bosses at Kia’s global headquarters in Korea who had listened to Kia Australia’s pitch for a ute four years ago.
The business case made sense, too. With Australia’s best-selling car actually a ute and with 20 percent of overall sales in the Australian car market being utes, Mr Meredith had forecast that he could sell 20,000 Kia utes a year. Kia’s global chief executive officer Ho-Sung Song was impressed by the proposal and the numbers.
“We put together a plan about four years ago and said, 'Look, we believe we can do this many', and Mr Song nearly fell off his chair and said, 'That’s impossible; you couldn’t do that many'. But he started counting then he started believing,” Mr Meredith said.
But it seems Mr Song was not entirely convinced.
“We haven’t had any definitive answer from Kia headquarters,” Mr Meredith admitted. “Every time I see him, he says, “I understand what you said, Damian, but let’s just wait and see.”
“We’ve done our homework,” Mr Meredith said, “but it’s not up to us - it’s up to Kia headquarters and they just haven’t given us an answer.”
The reason could be very good one, and likely two-fold.
First, Kia probably doesn’t have easy access to a suitable platform with a ladder-frame chassis for an off-road ute. Yes, the company has a commercial division with light trucks, but their underpinnings wouldn’t cut it against modern ute rivals such as the Ranger.
And yes, we’ve seen Kia show off its military might with armoured vehicles such as the KLTV built specifically for the Korean army. We’ve even speculated that because these light tactical vehicles have a modular chassis for different wheelbases, they could work well for a ute, but the application might be easier said than done.
Finally, Kia does sell an SUV overseas called the Mojave which uses a ladder frame, but it’s left-hand-drive-only.
To compete with the HiLux, Ranger or Mitsubishi Triton, Kia would need its ute to have not just a ladder frame, but a range of diesel and petrol engines. Back in 2020, Meredith told CarsGuide to expect “dual cab, single cab, diesel, petrol – what we’ve requested is the full gamut of a ute family”.
Kia could develop an excellent ute platform with a ladder frame in conjunction with its sister company Hyundai from scratch if it wanted to, and as we’ve speculated, the 205kW/590Nm 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-diesel found in the Genesis GV80 would provide impressive grunt .
And this leads us to what is probably the main part of why we haven’t seen a Kia ute yet, and that is with electric vehicles set to replace their combustion counterparts in the coming decades, it would be pointless spending billions designing, developing and producing a new platform for a petrol or diesel ute which may be phased out not long after it’s introduced.
Making the prospect even less compelling for Kia HQ is that it would most likely only be building the ute for Australia, New Zealand and a few other small markets. So, while 20,000 ute sales a year is big bickies for Australia, globally it’s tiny and may not be seen as worth the effort of development.
So, an off-road Kia ute with a ladder frame and diesel engine is most likely never going to happen and for good reason.
“Don’t get depressed by that,” Mr Meredith told us. “We’ve got a lot of good stuff coming in regards to alternate fuels, and we’re really excited about what the future holds for the brand.”
That has us thinking. It would make more sense for Kia to be working on an electric or hydrogen fuel-cell ute which would take on the likes of the Ford F-150 Lightning and Rivian R1T, something with excellent off-road capability, incredible towing capacity and importantly something which will be around long after Kia goes all-electric in most markets by 2040.