So the Kia Cee’d, Top Gear’s Reasonably Priced Car, has gone, replaced by a Vauxhall Astra. Top Gear says it was the programme’s decision. Kia says the company decided.
Whichever, Kia had outgrown the programme, no matter how big a brand Top Gear’s become. The fact that there’s a new-generation Cee’d isn’t important. Kia had already moved on. Moved up in fact. Kia and sister brand Hyundai have grown massively in Europe over the past five years or so. In 2012 they sold about 250,000 more cars in Europe than Toyota and were not far short of Renault, Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall.
Hyundais and Kias are good value and come with long warranties, which has helped them in the downturn. But more significantly that they’ve become desirable, especially Kia, by instilling great styling across the range. In 2006 Kia brought in Peter Schreyer, designer of the Audi TT, and has since elevated him to president of the company, the first non-Korean to hold the title. He now heads global design for Hyundai too.
The Korean company has recognised the importance of design in generating appeal and desirability. It was canny in leading with Kia, the junior partner and a brand with less baggage, and following with Hyundai, with a well established and conservative customer base. But people still buy cars on the basis of how they look. If they come with great customer care then what’s not to like? Now there’s a plan to re-launch the Lada brand on the basis of a style revolution under a British designer, Steve Mattin, who was previously design boss of Volvo.
Even Top Gear’s new incumbent is at it. The Astra is a decent-looking car, and Vauxhall/Opel parent GM Europe has introduced a rash of very well styled new models like the Astra GTC coupe, Cascade convertible, Mokka mini-SUV and the Adam, a Mini/Fiat 500 rival.
The carmakers are waking up to design. And the Reasonably Priced Car has become better looking than some of the stars who drive it.