Kia Motors plans a foray into the US pick-up truck market, according to the Maeil Business Newspaper’s website on Thursday.

Asian automakers – Japanese and Korean – have entered the segment in recent years with such models as Nissan’s full-size Titan, and the newly-launched Toyota Tundra lines, both US-built. Honda has the smaller, also US-made, Ridgeline, pitched at the private buyer/recreational market, and the Koreans have recently expressed interest in entering the segment, having done well with minivans, a separate ‘light truck’ segment from which Ford recently withdrew.

Acording to Maeil Business Newspaper’s report, KIA Motors president Cho Nam-hong said the company would advance into the US pick-up truck market as part of the conclusion of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) just announced.

Cho attended the 2007 Seoul International Motor Show held at Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in Gyeonggido on April 5 and has mentioned that the successful settlement of FTA will provide numerous opportunities to the company. Cho has also said the company needs to forgo product development to make an inroad to the pick-up truck market.

“We still have ample opportunity and time to begin our development project as the 25% tariff levied on the pick-up trucks will be removed gradually for the next 10 years,” Cho was reported to have said.

Kia, an affiliate of Korea’s largest automaker, Hyundai Motor, launched a medium-sized concept SUV called KND-4 during the Seoul motor show this week.

The KND-, developed by Kia’s domestic design centre and chief design officer Peter Schreyer, offers various cutting-edge devices, including, Bluetooth, Blu-ray (high density optical disc) technologies, built-in hard disc for the audio player and active torque transfer (ATT) system that automatically distributes torque to the wheels on slippery roads, the website report added.

KND-4 is powered by a 2.2-litre VGT diesel engine.

Kia has also launched a medium-sized concept crossover called the Kue which combines advantages of SUVs and sedans, Maeil Business Newspaper said.

This week’s March and Q1 2007 sales results showed that import brands are continuing to nibble away at Detroit’s light truck advantage – the category includes SUVs and some vehicle types such as Chrysler’s PT Cruiser.

Q1 domestic brand sales slipped 3.0% to 1,738,579 while imports, including the Tundra, Nissan’s Titan and Honda’s Ridgeline, were up 10.1% to 343,359.

Light trucks from all brands – both domestic and import – again dominated US sales in the first quarter of ’07, with 2,081,938 sales off just -1.1% year on year.

With that sort of volume, it’s little wonder that the Korean automakers want a slice of the action.

Graeme Roberts

Big 3 dislike Korea FTA

US Q1 sales