The refreshed Picanto represents a new direction for Kia. The managing director of Kia Motors UK tells James Batchelor why he has high hopes for the car.
The new Picanto is impressive – you must be pleased.
We are very excited about the new Picanto. Not only because we feel it is a strong product in the A-segment, but the previous Picanto has been very good for us. We were mindful when we stepped up to the new car that there had to be improvements with the quality and design, and the reaction so far has been very encouraging and bodes well. We’re looking to continue our success in this segment.
Is the Picanto an important car for your dealer network?
It will be, yes. Because it is largely a retail car, it is important, and our network realises this. The Picanto became very popular under scrappage and has continued to do well post-scrappage, so we think it will continue to be an important car for our dealers.
I don’t overplay the Picanto’s importance for our dealers though – the all-new Rio is arguably more important, because for years we have been under-represented in the B-segment, so that is the really important car.
But, having said that, if the new five-door Picanto maintains the sales of the previous five-door Picanto, that would not be a bad result, and with the three-door we will be looking at a different type of customer. We should therefore be able to move our volumes forward.
‘The Sportage really caught the imagination of conquest customers and attracted them to the brand’
Why a three-door and why is it coming later?
The three-door Picanto coming after the five-door is purely production time. It comes pretty quickly after the five-door, but the three-door’s production date is about two months away. When it comes, it will allow us to target a market that we have never been able to with the previous Picanto. Yes, let’s keep continuing to provide a five-door car – especially as we have an eight per cent market share with it – but the three-door will generate new interest – the three- door will mostly target conquest customers. It will appeal to a younger, more masculine group, which will be new for us. Arguably, the previous Picanto appealed more to women – the three-door will be more wide reaching.
We’ve had Sportage, now Picanto, Rio and Optima – are you pleased with them?
Very much so. It’s funny last year we had the same number of new products launched, but the Sportage stole the limelight, taking people’s eyes off the Venga and the Sorento. The Sportage really caught the imagination of conquest customers and attracted them to the brand, and it’s the car that defines ‘new Kia’. The Picanto, Rio and Optima lead on from this.
Why is there no diesel engine for the Picanto?
To be honest, in the A-segment, it just isn’t something that we see to be necessary. It is a market that is largely retail, and the premium which comes with diesel is difficult for customers to justify. Providing you have got petrol engines with good CO2 levels and fuel economy, there is no justification for diesel.
The previous Picanto was a scrappage winner. Will the new Picanto continue to be a success without scrappage?
The previous Picanto actually became a stronger car because of scrappage, so the brand is in a different and better place than it was. It wasn’t all down to scrappage. That gave us a turbo-boost but Kia was always destined to become a growing brand. I’m confident the new Picanto will continue to be a success because I think it will move us onto the next level.
Sales are down this year for Kia. What is your reaction to this?
They are down due to scrappage. Our non- scrappage sales are actually up, and our market share is up. If you look at the trend of non- scrappage sales in the retail market, it has grown every year – our share of this market last year was 3.1 per cent, it was 2.2. per cent in 2009, and in 2008 we managed 1.7 per cent – and year to date we are running at 3.3 per cent, so we are growing all the time. In the first three months of last year we sold more than 10,000 new scrappage cars, but there is none of this in our figures for 2011. That shows how much we are growing in the core retail market.