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Kia Telluride not tough enough for Australia, but large SUV remains high on wishlist

By Tony O'Kane, 13 Jul 2018 News

Kia Telluride not tough enough for Australia, but large SUV remains high on wishlist

Kia Australia thinks a body-on frame ute and SUV are what’s needed to take the brand beyond 100K sales.

Kia Australia has confirmed the plus-sized Telluride SUV that’s destined for US showrooms is not a vehicle of interest locally – because it’s not tough enough.

Speaking to the media at this week’s launch of the revamped Sportage, Kia Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith said there were two major factors standing in the way of an Aussie future for the Telluride:

“There are a couple of things that count against it: it hasn’t been developed in RHD, and my understanding is that it’s monocoque,” Meredith said.

Read next: 2018 Kia Sportage review

The latter appears to be the bigger stumbling block. With the three-row Telluride built around a transverse-engined adaptation of the Sorento’s platform, it doesn’t offer enough in the way of differentiators to Kia’s existing large SUV.

Simply put, Kia wants a tough truck built on a burly ladder frame.

“If you look at large SUVs in general you could bundle them into two areas, one being a soft monocoque that spends most of its life on the road on the school run, but there’s also a substantial number that exist as a more rugged-type large SUV that may have the underpinnings of a ute,” said Kia Australia product planning chief Roland Rivero.

“[The latter] has got off-road capability, it’s got towing capacity and opens up a whole host of parts and accessories as well.

More on: Kia news

“It’s a huge market, and if you’re in product planning you look at all the areas where you’ve got a gap, and [that large SUV] is a gap. It’s not only a volume gap, but a revenue gap, and it’s a gap that other competitors are fulfilling within the top-ten [top-selling manufacturers].”

“There are many who’ve bought a Sorento who wish they could tow more, have a higher downball rating etc.”

While something the size of Toyota’s 200-series Landcruiser would be certainly welcomed by Kia Australia, the company is setting its sights on something that might provide greater commercial opportunity – a ute-based offroad wagon in the same vein as Ford’s Everest, Toyota’s Fortuner and Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport.

Adding a ute to its portfolio is mission critical for Kia right now, and while one has yet to be announced Kia’s local operation is lobbying fiercely for a high-riding light commercial utility. Adapting a wagon-style ‘top-hat’ to a ute’s ladder frame would be a technologically simpler exercise that engineering a bespoke platform for a Landcruiser rival.

“You have to think about manufacturing complexity as well,” Rivero continued.

Read next: 2018 Kia Sportage price and features announced

“If there is a future direction to build a light commercial range on a ladder-frame platform, we would think that would be shared between a ute and a large SUV.

“The first priority would be the small SUV – and there’s light at the end of that tunnel, but beyond that we’ve got to keep making sure KMC is well aware of the market opportunities in Australia.”

If Kia Australia can secure all three – a compact SUV to sit below the Sportage, a work-grade commercial ute and an off-road capable three-row large SUV, Rivero reckons the company’s sales totals – and position in the sales chart – would be propelled to new heights.

“Pretty much everyone above us in that top six other than Hyundai has a light-commercial ute, and at least Hyundai has the iLoad as a light commercial,” Rivero said.

“I think we’d be well-entrenched in the top five, close to 100,000 [sales]. It would open us up a little bit, particularly in the rural areas, if we had a light commercial. If we had all three – small SUV, ute and large ladder-frame SUV – we’d be well into the 100,000-unit territory.”