Kia Australia looks poised to leverage its naming rights sponsorship of the Australian Open Tennis Grand Slam to electrifying effect, by using the 2020 event held in January as the launch program for its e-Niro EV crossover.
The company is working on an ambitious plan to have a fleet of Niro electric cars serving as shuttle vehicles around Melbourne during the event, in place of the familiar stickered-up Carnivals and Sorentos, with the dealer rollout coinciding.
The Australian Open is the single biggest marketing investment Kia makes anywhere in the world despite our market being the company’s ninth biggest by sales, and in the words of local COO Damien Meredith would provide “an amazing way to launch our EV range”.
Meredith said this week that he was in talks with both the Victorian Government and the EV Council about the plan, which would give electric cars the sort of publicity boost perfected by startup Tesla (for all its flaws, Elon Musk is a heck of a marketer).
The e-Niro is Kia’s equivalent to the Hyundai Kona Electric, which is about the arrive in Australia and thereby beat Kia to the punch, and will additionally rival the imminent Nissan Leaf. While the EV market share here is still only a few tenths of 1.0 per cent, Meredith expects it to be 5.0 per cent by 2025.
News of the e-Niro’s expected launch is a welcome one, given the fact Kia in the UK (used as a comparative market because of its right-hand drive vehicles) has completely depleted its 2019 allocation already, reportedly due to battery supply issues from Samsung and LG.
Globally, the e-Niro comes with 39kWh and 64kWh battery pack options, with WLTP ranges of 289km and 455km respectively.
Meredith said the company was keen to move in EVs in Australia, following in the wheel tracks of those rivals mentioned (Kona EV pictured below), plus a slew of premium players such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and of course Tesla.
“I believe in EV and if we want to keep improving the brand we need to be at the cutting edge of these types of vehicles,” he said.
Philosophically, Meredith aligned himself with Volkswagen Australia’s boss Michael Bartsch in eschewing any calls for direct government subsidies to stimulate the market, unlike executives from some other brands.
“I don’t want money from the government,” he told us, instead suggesting any public money go to industry-wide EV challenges instead.
“We’ve asked our dealers when they redevelop to have at least two charging stations, and have already started training our dealers in servicing EVs. Everyone will be trained [for that],” he added.
Where to from there? The Niro hybrid and PHEV models sold elsewhere will not be offered here, with the company keen to hone in on BEV only. The next EV will be the cute Soul electric model, which is already available and could arrive as soon as next year too as “an exceptionally well-priced EV”.
As we analysed elsewhere, while overall new vehicle sales continue to go backwards in Australia, Kia is bucking the trend, having doubled its sales between 2014-18 and continuing to climb so far in 2019 to boot.
The ‘second’ Korean brand after Hyundai has gone from also-ran, to fast-growing upstart, to established brand hovering around the top 5 overall position in impressively rapid time, clawing its way ahead of Volkswagen, Nissan, Honda, Holden and Subaru in the process.