The Rise and Rise of Kia Australia
Ten years ago there were just over 150,000 Kia vehicles on Australia’s roads - almost all of them privately owned small cars purchased on price alone. Fast forward to 2019 and we are closing in on half a million Kia’s registered to Australian owners.
Over that time, Kia’s market perception has gone from “well it’s cheap…” to being a safe and strategic choice for many Australian fleets. And the rise of Kia shows no sign of slowing with Kia being the only top-ten marque to show an increase in sales in Australia for 2019.
Permission to buy
Chris Forbes, National Fleet Manager at Kia Australia, believes that 2014 was a turning point for the organisation. That was the year that Kia introduced the first ever 7 year warranty to the Australian market.
“We knew we had a quality product that was well suited to Australia,” says Forbes, “but we needed to give buyers a reason to look harder at the Kia brand. In a way we needed to give them ‘permission’ to buy Kia.”
The numbers don’t lie
The figures back Forbes’ assessment. The seven-year warranty was introduced late in 2014 and the following year saw a rise in sales of 20% to give Kia their best year ever. 2016 saw an even bigger rise (26%) and an appearance in the top ten selling marques.
Forbes believes the knock-on effects from that 2014 decision are what led to Kia being the automotive powerhouse it is today. He talks about the warranty being a “bold decision” - the standard warranties in Australia at that time were 3 or 5 years - and points out that even today it is the longest, most comprehensive warranty available in Australia.
“What we did was to display our own faith in the brand. The warranty meant that people could be confident and that improved the residual values and that was where fleet really started to pay attention.”
Forbes is passionate about the brand, as you’d expect, but he’s also passionate about the company itself. “It’s a great organisation to work with,” he says, “the culture is as good as I’ve seen. There’s a blend of long term staff supplemented by a regular influx of new blood. And there’s a strong belief in both the brand and the product.”
Some of this is probably attributable to the level of autonomy that the Australian operation enjoys. Head Office doesn’t dictate local models or specifications, with Australian managers involved in deciding which vehicles to import, how they are specified, and what options are available.
The future is bright
Kia globally does not show any signs of resting on its laurels. In January this year they announced “Plan S”, a strategy that will see 11 EV models and 25% of all sales being eco-friendly by the end of 2025. In Australia too there are plans for continued growth with Forbes tipping the light commercial segment as the next big push for Kia.
Australian’s love an underdog story and Kia have been a shining example these last few years, with a story of progress that would have surprised many. The coming years will tell whether Kia has reached a plateau or whether it still has “The Power to Surprise”.
Article authored by Shane Curran