The much-anticipated Kia Stinger is due to arrive in local showrooms later this year, but Kia Australia says the model's success is far from guaranteed.
Speaking with Australian media ahead of the kick-off for this week’s 2017 Geneva motor show, Kia Australia chief operating officer Damien Meredith, said care needs to be taken to ensure the sports-slanted ‘saloon liftback’ succeeds on the Australian market.
“I think we’ve got to be really, really careful how we position [Stinger],” Meredith said.
“One of our foundations is value for money. Now, we think we make great cars, and I think we do make great cars, but we’ve got to make sure that they’re priced accordingly that we get critical mass.
“I think how we position Stinger will give it the direction over the next five-to-ten years. Specifically, we think that, whilst unfortunately Commodore and Falcon are disappearing (as rear-wheel-drive locally-manufactured cars), we don’t think the market’s disappearing.
“Therefore, if we can fill that pool that’s left empty, we believe that Stinger can be relatively successful. Now, that depends on positioning, that depends on pricing, that depends on a lot of things, so again, we’ve got to be really careful how we position it and price it to fill that pool.”
Although Meredith is quick to acknowledge the notable slump in large car sales in recent times – last year alone, sales were down more than 10 per cent on 2015, and down 60 per cent compared with 2010 – the local head still sees opportunity in the segment.
“That’s fair enough. But if there’s a 40,000-unit market in Australia, and you get 10 per cent of that, that’s 4000 cars a year. And just using that as an example, if you get 10 per cent of that 40,000-unit segment, to me, that’s success.
“That’s the way you’ve got to look at it. You’ve got to make decisions for the medium- and long-haul, you just can’t say, ‘Well, that’s not working, don’t enter that market’.
“I think we’ve been relatively smart and relatively brave in some areas with what we’ve done to enter segments… I think Picanto is a good example of that, I think Stinger will also be a good example of that.
“Using that 40,000-unit market as an example, if we get 10 per cent of that, I think we’d all be happy with that. So, we’re confident that it can be a success, if we get the positioning correct and we get the pricing correct.”
While final pricing and specifications for Australia are still yet to be finalised and announced, two powerplants will be offered in the rear-wheel-drive Commodore- and Falcon-hunting Stinger, with both the 190kW/353Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 272kW/510Nm twin-turbocharged 3.3-litre V6 to reach local shores.
That said, Meredith is more than aware of how fine the pricing balance can be, particularly in a market as competitive as Australia.
“[Hypothetically], if the 2.0-litre was $40,000 and the 3.3-litre was $60,000, I know which [one would be the volume seller]. However, if it was $45,000 [versus] $55,000, well… And if it was $43,000 [versus] $50,000, it changes the dynamic quite significantly. So, we don’t know at this point in time.”
Seeing a deeper chord for the Stinger to strike, Kia Motors Australia media and corporate communications general manager Kevin Hepworth added that “engines are probably not going to be the biggest questions”.
“It’s the rear-wheel drive that’s what’s going to offer what the market doesn’t have anymore,” Hepworth said.
“That’s where, we’re hoping, a lot of the interest will come from, from people who have grown up with those cars, want those cars, and don’t want to pay $80,000-$90,000 for a rear-wheel-drive European car. There’s an opening there somewhere. There’s a big hole.”
So how much interest has the Stinger already sparked? Kia Australia reckons pre-sold numbers are growing, while ‘warm/hot’ dealer enquiries are “in the 400s already”.
“So, we’re pretty happy with that,” said Meredith.