The Picanto has been an on-again, off-again proposition for the South Korean brand ever since its international debut in 2011, but according to Hepworth there’s something brewing that could make the Picanto a more likely addition to the Kia line-up in 2015.
“Picanto is seriously back on the agenda for Australia. It's not a signed off project, but where it’s been a floaty idea in the background in the past, it's now come back to a serious proposition,” he said.
“There's a particular use for it in Australia, but I can't tell you what it is at this stage,” Hepworth said.
“But it is being seriously considered for Australia. So we're monitoring it very closely. There's a facelift due next year on the car, which would make a common sense time to move it in,” he suggested.
When asked what has changed to make the brand think differently about the sub-Rio city car, Hepworth could give little away, other than to say there’s a plan that is being worked on that has been dreamt up by recently appointed marketing chief Damien Meredith.
“It's never going to be a cheap car. Thats the problem - it's not a cheap car. The cost of that car is quite substantial in the marketplace. It's not going to be a $9999 car in anyone's language.
“But, there is quite an innovative marketing plan, if you like, to go with it, which could set a trend which is going to blow people out of the water,” Hepworth said. “Not from our sales point of view, but as a social experiment it will be a very good idea. There's value in all sorts of areas.”
He suggested the secret plan had more to do with how the car would be marketed than anything else.
“The way you market it, who you are marketing it to, it's all linked together into one program, that's what's changed.
“While that segment of car in Australia is not selling in real numbers, you’ve got to find a hook for it, you’ve got to find a reason why people might buy it or consider it more strongly than otherwise.
“The challenge is the segment it sits in. Has there been a mindset change enough for people to accept micro cars? And will the proposed planning for it be enough for that mindset to change?”
If it were to be signed off, Hepworth suggested the car – a facelifted version, likely with updated technology – could arrive in the second half of 2015. As for a price? Don’t expect it to undercut budget-friendly models like the Mitsubishi Mirage, which has just had its entry point cut to $11,490.
“It's not a cheap car, and that's always been its problem. To find a price to sell it competitively in Australia [is difficult], but if you add on the planned marketing proposal it makes it a much more acceptable car.”
He said it wouldn't affect the larger Rio light hatch, which currently sells from $15,990.
However, Hepworth suggested there’s an intent from within the company to have a class-leading car at that end of the market – and it could be that Kia wants to get the jump on sister brand Hyundai, which is believed to be readying the new i10 for local launch in 2015.
“It'll put us at the front of part of the motoring industry in Australia,” he said. “Lots of people will take notice, especially the people who need that sort of car.