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INTERVIEW: Now dealers ask for Kia

By Graeme Roberts | 16 April 2012

Cole: Now the dealers pitch to him

Cole: Now the dealers pitch to him

Ask Michael Cole, MD of Kia Motors UK, what's changed in the last few years and he responds that dealers now come to Kia rather than vice-versa.

On his desk are applications awaiting appropriate site openings. Meanwhile, those on shared sites who might have once made Kia the less-favoured brand are now headlining with the Koreans.

“In 2007 it was more about convincing existing dealers to stay.”

The secret? Mostly product. The Slovak-built Ceed launched in '07 put the brand on the map at an “attractive price point versus the mainstream”. And there have been more hits since, not least the new Sorrento SUV.

Now, Cole told just-auto on the sidelines of the Spanish launch of the second generation Ceed, replacing the first of the new generation Kias moves the brand “up a notch” into the more premium end of the C-segment though “we are not claiming to be a premium brand”.

He said Kia doen't have the level of discount advantage of the European brands so aims for a “slightly more competitive position” and much stress is put at retail sales level on support – the unique seven-year transferrable warranty and competitive finance and service packages for retail buyers.

New Ceed launches with four trim packs plus an additional top 'tech' version and Cole let slip a high-performance petrol 1.6-litre engine is coming in 2013 after the five-door hatchback is launched in June, the wagon in September and the three-door early next year.

Cole also doesn't deny a new MPV is coming to replace the ancient Carens and that the large US-style Sedona (Carnival) minivan will be dropped in Europe, he notes that rival Renault has axed its Espace.

He concedes that potential buyers do cross-shop Kia with Hyundai but suggests that, in this internet age, most people have their decision made before they reach the showroom.

“It's not a problem – both brands are growing pretty rapidly and taking share off others,” he said.

Current dealer count is 171, up from 130/140 five years ago and 174/5 is seen as ideal by the end of this year. Plans? “180 is about there – that gets us the coverage we need.”

Cole is more about, as he puts it, commanding “shelf space”.

Three years ago, Kia was happy sharing a quarter of a major site, nowadays the dealers are more likely to give it “front of house”.

The right dealers in the right places takes precedence over numbers.