The big new 2015 Kia Carnival is selling so well that the company’s local arm “simply can’t keep up with demand”, according to Kia Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith.
Demand, indeed. Although it launched here in late February, the new Carnival’s 1463 year-to-date sales places it just 19 behind the Honda Odyssey that went on sale in 2014.
Meredith believes that tiny gap will grow wider - in the other direction - over the months ahead.
“Odyssey is a great product and, as I keep saying, we respect our opponent and what they give. But we’re pretty sure that, given supply - and again, that’s not an excuse - we believe that Carnival will be number one in its segment by the end of the year,” he said.
Let Kia tell the story and you’ll hear all about how the new Carnival’s spacious interior, quality materials, seven-year warranty, available diesel and powerful petrol options all give it a few key advantages.
One advantage it can’t boast of, however, is a top ANCAP crash safety rating. Where the Odyssey wears a five-star sticker, an engineering fumble left the Carnival with a four-star score in Australia.
Despite achieving top marks in left-hand-drive regions with Euro NCAP, IIHS and NHTSA, the Carnival’s conversion to right-hand-drive left it less than ideally suited to the localised ANCAP testing criteria. (Read all about that here.)
It’s no secret that Kia Australia was disappointed with the outcome - “all the information that we’d got was that we’d get through”, Meredith says - but with revised models due here in early August, the Carnival may not be far away from bridging that gap with the Odyssey too.
How important is a safety rating to buyers, though?
More to the point in the case between the Odyssey and the Carnival, what’s a top score worth?
“I think everyone cares about safety. It’s just, the reality is, is there a big difference between a five-star vehicle and a four-star vehicle. That’s got to be the consumer’s perception, doesn't it?” Meredith said.
“I’m not an engineer, but where’s the line between a five-star car, and a four-star car? I’m talking from a consumer’s point of view.”
From a consumer’s point of view, Kia communications manager Kevin Hepworth suggested that - if focus group market surveys are anything to go by - safety is important to buyers, but it’s not the driving consideration. It’s not even close.
“When you do the focus groups, safety comes in at about ‘five’ or ‘six’ in reasons to buy. Above that you’ve got style, function, comfort, price… warranty is up there too, as a peace-of-mind thing,” Hepworth said.
Meredith noted that while safety ratings may not be the number-one priority for buyers, and while ANCAP’s star system may be “confusing for everybody”, Kia remains focused on achieving top marks for every model it offers.
“I can assure you that every product that we can bring in to Australia, we want it to be five-star,” he said.
The newly arrived Kia Sorento is a testament to that goal, with crash testing in June netting it one of ANCAP’s highest-ever scores: 36.62 out of 37. Only the Hyundai Genesis, last year, and BMW’s 3 Series in 2012, have bettered it - and that’s with the Sorento facing tougher testing criteria than that required three years ago.
Meredith says that, confusing or not, top priority or not, star ratings do matter.
“I think that they play an important part in driving continued improvement in regards to what all manufacturers should do, and that doesn’t matter if it’s a car or a bottle of Coke - it’s got to be safer for the consumer,” he said.