ROAD TEST | How Kia aims to win the SUV war


Talk about boldness.

Kia Motors, the child of Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group, aims to control 40% of the global SUV market by 2030. It’s not easy to say how many vehicles that might be as the numbers change.

In the United States, for example, buyers are moving away from passenger cars in favor of the space, comfort and improved driving position of SUVs. In 2020, Americans bought 5.9 million compact, midsize and full-size SUVs, or about 41% of the market, according to data compiled from

It was the year COVID hit and Americans bought some 14.5 million new vehicles, a sharp drop from previous years when sales hovered around 17 million. Another large share of sales came from sales of light pickup trucks

Passenger cars account for less than a quarter of all new vehicle sales in the United States, down from half a decade earlier, and that ratio is falling rapidly, partly because fewer Americans want them, partly because American manufacturers stopped trying to compete with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

Please allow a momentary digression. Escalating oil prices could affect this trend. Due to their superior aerodynamics and reduced mass, the cars are much more fuel efficient. The modern ones, in any case, which excludes Dodge. Buyers might just decide it’s wiser to buy something that gets 50 mpg instead of 15. Just spit here, but that info is on the window sticker.

So in 2020 in the US, Kia sold 300,000 Niros, Seltoses, Sportages, Sorentos and – everyone’s favorite – 7-seater Tellurides. This year, Kia is adding a battery electric vehicle (BEV, in vernacular), the range-topping EV6.

Niro is already available in an EV version based on a vehicle designed for an internal combustion engine (ICE), but the EV6 is Kia’s first dedicated BEV and signals the US launch of Kia’s “Plan S” strategy which will offer 11 new electric models around the world. world by 2026. All will be named “EV” followed by the number the vehicle holds in the range.

I think that means the EV6 represents Kia’s flagship SUV, but we’ll see. Kia’s marketing materials include the Soul and Carnival among its SUVs, but to me the former looks more like a boxy subcompact and the latter more like a minivan.

In any case, if Kia plans to capture 40% of the North American SUV market – and make no mistake, this battle is taking place on a global scale – it will have to increase production at its West Point, Georgia, buy a factor of eight. The reported $1 billion, 2.2 million square foot capacity is 360,000 cars per year, so it’s more likely that Kia is already looking to expand its US footprint.

Two of the West Point-built vehicles, the Sorento and the Telluride, were named by Car and Driver editors as the top picks for 2022. In all, six Kia vehicles were named. The Sorento also earned the highest rating in the JD Power 2022 Vehicle Reliability Study. Indeed, three of the four major manufacturers were subsidiaries of Hyundai Holding: Hyundai Motor Group, it’s the Genesis luxury arm, and i I agree with my colleague, David Boldt, that the Genesis launch is a winner. Kia ranked first in the study. Buick was second.

The awards were expected to be good news for Hyundai and Kia, which suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks related to massive fines and civil settlements over engine fire issues dating back six years.

More recently, the companies recalled nearly 500,000 vehicles. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, owners of certain 2014-2016 Kia Sportage, 2016-2018 Kia K900 and 2016-2018 Hyundai Santa Fe models have been asked to park their vehicles outside due to a fire, even though the vehicle is turning. disabled. NHTSA said the cause – this time – was not the motors but possibly a faulty electrical component. Dealers will install a fuse to eliminate the problem, so it’s not that bad. Still, it’s 어색하다, pronounced o-see-kada, Korean for “clumsy.”

Incidentally, Tesla has recalled more than 817,000 vehicles this week over a seat belt recall issue.

Sorento leads the way

Although the latest generation Sorento started life on the drawing board as an ICE machine, it has a few aspects that hint at things to come. Compared to America’s best-selling SUV, the Toyota RAV4, the Sorento is longer, wider, roomier, faster, has a third row and is well equipped, it gets much better fuel economy.

Starting at $30,805, delivered, the Sorento slots nicely between a compact SUV and the $34,345 Telluride, the unanimous choice of reviewers as the best seven-seater on the planet. These are starting prices and come with two caveats. The first is that Kia and Hyundai offer complex model and option trees, which means prices can quickly skyrocket.

The other is that when comparing sales numbers before and after COVID, there is a disparity of about 5 million units between what manufacturers would have sold and what they could. That’s a lot of pent-up demand at a time when median current account balances are rising sharply, especially among the top quartile who typically buy new vehicles, according to JPMorgan Chase.

The main reason car prices have an inflationary effect is because people pay for them. Manufacturers are doing all they can to stop price gouging, but the market will take what it takes. I would advise you to wait for the market to return to normal, but I doubt it ever will.

Oh, the chip shortage will most certainly end because manufacturers are starting to build their own factories, but COVID has taught manufacturers and resellers that smaller inventories lead to higher transaction prices and better return on investment. It’s like I once heard a biker friend say as he was recovering from his third wreck, they’ll make you better, but they’ll never make you the way you were.

If you can get a fair price, the 2022 Sorento is a great buy. Our top-of-the-line $45,120 X-Line Prestige had the premium feel of the $50,000 top-of-the-line Sorento. The third row is distinctly sized for kids, but perforated leather seats throughout, heated seats forward and amidships, panoramic views, 12-speaker Bose sound and a wealth of features safety and comfort made it a pleasure.

An important option available on Sorento that is not available on any Toyota is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). Plug it into a 110 outlet overnight, and it will give you 32 miles of electric-only power before switching to gas-electric power. If your trip is less than 32 miles, you will only buy g for long trips. Want more range? Stop at any gas station.

Kias come with one of the best warranties in the business, with caveats. A 10 year or 100,000 mile powertrain warranty is non-transferable. A 5-year/60,000-mile base warranty is generous but doesn’t include any free maintenance.

Test Drive is a self-review column written by Bill Owney.

2022 Sorento X-Line. Photo courtesy of Kia
Photo 2022 Sorento X-Line. Photo courtesy of Kia

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