Tag Archives: Kia

Kia – the power to surprise, the power to disappoint

kia-kx35-concept-1A Kia concept, said to preview a China-only SUV model, at a second-tier Chinese motor show. Hardly big news, especially as the industry was focused on the Los Angeles show at the time. But the Kia KX3 unveiled in Guangzhou show a few days ago is an interesting product for what it says about the brand.

Its front-end styling has the same basic form as a Porsche Cayenne, the SUV which saved the German carmaker, accounting for half its volumes and becoming a talisman for the brand in China.

Kia, like its Hyundai sister brand, has been a revelation in the last few years, growing phenomenally and producing very well designed products. It’s secret has been to add good styling to the value brand proposition. But it’s an overstretch for Kia to try to assume some of Porsche’s cachet.

And there’s a very good reason not to ape Porsche design: the Cayenne’s unloved styling was a direct result of applying iconic 911 design language to a front-engined, four-door car for the first time. And the 911’s styling was borne out of the rear-engine layout, meaning that it could have a very low bonnet line. This resulted in a unique – and aesthetically problematic – form in which the Cayenne’s headlights sit above the radiator grille, giving a bug-eyed, ungainly look. There’s been no other car like it. Until now.

Porsche-Cayenne-S-E-HybridThe original Cayenne’s looks were universally unpopular. They’ve been refined but whether you like them or not is not the issue. The point is that they were, and remain, a must for Porsche in communicating its brand: the Cayenne may have been a heavy, high-centre-of-gravity beast but its engineering and dynamics were as cutting-edge as those of a 911. It was an SUV but it was a Porsche. Aesthetics had to be secondary. The design of the Kia KX3 has no such rationale.

Kia has been a revelation in the past five or so years, growing phenomenally and producing very well designed products. In a visionary move, in 2007 Kia recruited the European designer of the iconic Audi TT, Peter Schreyer, to head its styling. He’s since become the boss of all Hyundai-Kia design and the most senior non-Korean in its business globally. In so doing the management has elevated the brands and created a compelling combination of the rational and emotional.

1bUnder Schreyer, Kia has been a triumph of unexpectedly confident, contemporary, original, perfectly proportioned designs – ironically everything that Porsche design is not and cannot be. This is especially true of the Sportage, which the KX3 is, in reality, thought to be previewing.

Now they’re trying to differentiate Kia from Hyundai, especially in design terms. They want to add more emotion and sportiness, and a stronger design signature. But the best brands are aligned with great original design: think Apple. And they give consumers what the consumers don’t know that they want: again, think Apple. Allowing the Chinese market to define wider product and design strategy would be a mistake.

Kia is on the rise. It’s just been ranked 74 in Interbrand’s 100 Best Global Brands, with brand value up almost 500% since Schreyer’s arrival. It’s fulfilled the brand message ‘The Power to Surprise’. But if the KX3 signals the next design phase it also has the power to disappoint.

Hyundai needs to avoid joining the mainstream

2015-hyundai-genesis-rendering-1-1While the rise of the premium brands seems to have defined the changing dynamics of the car industry in the last decade, the growth in stature of the value brands is a more remarkable story. Hyundai and Kia in particular.

It’s much harder to grow a brand upwards from a budget baseline than it is for a brand to apply premium qualities to more functional vehicles as BMW, Mercedes and Audi have done. And Hyundai and Kia have done it without the resources of an existing group.

The Korean group has experienced phenomenal growth, with a doubling of European sales since 2008. Both brands have reeled customers in with competitive pricing and long warranties, and it’s easy to understand why the value brands have prospered in the years since economic meltdown.

But it’s not all about value. In a visionary move, in 2006 Kia recruited the European designer of the iconic Audi TT to head its styling. He’s since become the boss of all Hyundai-Kia design and the most senior non-Korean in its business globally. In so doing the management has elevated the brands and created a compelling combination of the rational and emotional. They now effectively offer what Toyota did a decade ago – reliable, hassle-free motoring for ordinary consumers – but with added style. And remarkably they’ve now comfortably overtaken the Japanese giant in Europe: Hyundai’s market share this year is 3.5% and steady, Toyota’s 4.0% and falling. Kia’s is 2.8% and climbing, giving the pair a combined 6.3% of the market, 50% more than Toyota.

And now Hyundai has become one of the world’s 50 most valuable brands according to the Interbrand Best 100 Global Brands index. To put that in perspective, we’re talking companies in all sectors. Companies like Coca-Cola, Google and Apple. Hyundai’s rank is 43, putting it ahead of Sony, Facebook and Heinz.

In automotive terms it’s just one place behind Ford at 42. It’s seventh out of all automotive manufacturers, with Toyota, Mercedes, BMW, Honda and VW the only other brands to beat it. Over the last five years Hyundai’s brand value has grown 96%, mirroring sales.

Like sister brand Kia and Skoda, Hyundai now wants to sell its cars more on quality and less on value. It wants to raise perception and prices, to create more profit. But like the premium brands moving into mainstream territory it faces the possibility of losing some its brand relevance. Unlike the premium brands however, when the value brands move towards the mainstream they risk becoming merely part of the squeezed middle to which they currently offer such an appealing alternative.

Hyundai’s challenge now is to grow sustainably: to retain brand differentiation and to nurture a strong enough brand personality to avoid joining the mainstream.

Top Kia

KED 10 Teaser 1 - IAA Frankfurt 2013So 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.