A new Sportage on the Slovakian line
Last year the Hyundai and Kia group overtook Ford as the number four carmaker in the world with sales of just over 5m vehicles. It was only by a small margin but it was important, according to a senior European executive at the fast-rising Korean conglomerate.
Why was it important? According to Benny Oeyen, vice president of marketing and product planning for Kia Motors Europe: “It’s not just so we can go out and brag about it, it’s important for our customers. Development costs are rising as we have to take into account increasing environmental and safety legislation, but the cost of the car in the showrooms stays the same. In the current economic situation, peoples’ spending power is not increasing.
“By increasing the number of cars we sell that gives us economies of scale enabling us to share development and technology across model ranges and so keep costs down. Volume is important to all carmakers and this is the reason we are now seeing more mergers and more cooperations between car manufacturers.”
In Europe, the Kia brand wants to increase market share to just under 3% this year, up from 1.76% in 2009 in a market Oeyen expects to fall to 12.3m units from 14m last year.
This will give Kia European volume of 257,200 compared with 247,541 in 2009, a tally Oeyen believes could go even higher as the brand continues to roll out new models.
Its latest launch is the new, locally manufactured Sportage C segment SUV.
SUVs account for 9% of all European vehicle sales and Oeyen said the market for such vehicles continues to grow despite a perception that they are environment unfriendly and fuel inefficient.
“That is no longer the case. Yes, it’s true the market for the really big SUVs has dropped considerably but, in the C and B segments, sales of these vehicles are growing.
“In the D segment we can’t get enough Sorentos, we have literally sold out of our allocation from South Korea while the biggest growth in SUVs is in the C segment where we have Sportage.
“This segment has grown from 316,000 total sales in Europe in 2002 to 714,000 last year. Customers want the perceived security of an SUV, the high seating position, practicality and cool looks, plus all wheel drive for when the weather is bad.”
The fully redesigned Sportage, which is built at Kia’s European plant in Slovakia (as is parent Hyundai's ix35 equivalent on the same platform), goes on sale across Europe from August with two or four wheel drive and a choice of two litre petrol or diesel engines and manual or automatic transmission.
The 2WD version will not arrive in the UK until November and prices here will start from around GBP21,000 when the 4WD is launched next month.
Also around November comes new 1.7 diesel and 1.6 GDI (gasoline direct injection) engines, both with stop-start technology.
The new, third generation, model is slightly longer, wider and lower than its predecessor with the high shoulders and narrow glass that characterises the styling of Kia’s design chief Peter Schreyer and gives almost a coupe look to the car.
The suspension has been modified for European roads with input from Kia’s UK operation. That resulted in ride softening to cope with the lumps and bumps of British roads while retaining sure footedness around the bends.
While the exterior was styled by Kia’s North American design centre the interior was the work of the Frankfurt design team and distinctly European in flavour.