There appears to be no end in sight for the stream of new compact SUVs joining the Australian market, but Kia is hoping there will still be life in the party when it finally rolls out a contender in the potentially lucrative segment in 2019.
With its recently introduced C-HR, Toyota has proved that it is possible to attract a healthy sales tally despite offering a relatively late arrival to the segment, but the South Korean brand’s model has at least another two years to wait.
Sightings of a mysterious Kia-badged small high-rider around the world in what appears to be near-production trim have spurred optimism that the little Kia crossover will break cover sooner, but the company has dashed those hopes .
Speaking to Australian journalists, Kia Motors Australia media and corporate communications manager Kevin Hepworth explained that the spied vehicle was in fact the so-called Stonic which will not be coming to Australia.
However, the little car may be offering a glimpse of what’s to come with a tougher version set to follow it.
“That [Stonic] had very little capability as an actual SUV,” said Hepworth.
“It’s a 1.0-litre, small, urban, slightly raised car for people who like driving a higher vehicle, but there will be no opportunity for SUV activity.
“There is another version under development that is a proper [Mazda] CX-3 competitor. That’s the one for 2019.”
In the interim, Kia Motors Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith said that the company would find other ways to continue the company’s growth and there would be life left in the compact SUV market when they were finally equipped to compete.
“Is there a hole in our line-up? Yes, definitely, so we’ve just got to overcome that in other areas to make up volume,” he said.
“It’s always a problem when you come in late. There’s no question about that. You’ve just got to do the best you can with the product you’ve got.
“When it comes, you’ve just got to optimise and make the best of it.”
That line-up gap will not be plugged by the Kia Soul however, and neither Meredith or Hepworth were confident that significant volume was possible from the small passenger model, despite its upright posture and pseudo SUV looks.
“It’s almost an SUV but it doesn’t have the drivetrain,” said Meredith.
While Kia recognises that the Soul does not add significant volume to sales, its days are not numbered for now, and the company has a handful of strategies to try and boost interest in the model before it is put out to pasture.
Meredith explained that potential customers would give the Soul more thought if the current levels of technology and interior features were enhanced.
“I don’t think we’ve got the specification level right and I think if we do run it again, which we probably will, we’ve got to trick it up internally.
“Its days aren’t numbered but we’ve got to be realistic. It’s not a shape that has been successful in Australia but it’s probably got one or two more lives with things that we can do to get it to work.
“When the opportunity arises, we might do something internally because it needs to get a little bit more rigorous specification internally with connectivity etcetera. That would be the next step.
“We haven’t given up on the car”.