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Models like the Sportage have helped boost Kia’s fortunes in Australia.

We wrote at the start of 2022 that it would be a pivotal year for the South Korean brand, testing whether all the work it had done in recent years would pay off in the sales charts. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

Kia became Australia’s third best-selling brand in 2022, capping (at least for now) the company’s ascendancy from outsider to a key player in the market. As recently as 2017 Kia was only the ninth best-selling brand so it has been a steep climb in recent years.

No longer seen as a brand that sold vehicles primarily on value, Kia is now the best-selling South Korean carmaker and with models like the EV6, it attracts buyers with style and technology.

However, the key to the brand’s growth hasn’t been the headline-grabbing EV6 and Stinger hero models, it’s the increasingly unpopular but still crucial passenger cars and its growing line-up of SUVs.

While sales of the Picanto, Rio and Cerato small cars were all down last year, they still provided a meaningful 22,126 sales to Kia’s total; 28 per cent of its volume. Meanwhile, the brand has introduced new or refreshed SUVs in the last two years including the Sorento, Sportage, Seltos, Stonic and Niro.

Combined these sold more than 45,000 units, pushing the brand to 78,330 sales and past a faltering Hyundai and Mitsubishi to claim third place behind Toyota and Mazda.

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Kia is now the best-selling South Korean carmaker and with models like the EV6, it attracts buyers with style and technology.

Which was all part of the plan for the brand, as chief operating officer, Damien Meredith explained to CarsGuide.

“The strategy was this – that we’d keep our passenger cars, that would be our foundation, and we’d ride the SUV wave,” Mr Meredith said. “That’s basically what we did and during that time we got QL Sportage [in 2015], new Sorento and then filled the gap with Seltos and then filled the gap with Stonic.”

But there was also a deliberate shift away from focusing on pushing the brand as ‘cut-price’, with Kia not launching a sales event since September 2019, having previously had one every three months.

The turning point was the current generation Cerato, when it launched in 2018.

“For the longest time all about $19,990, $19,990 drive-away on Cerato,” said Kia’s product planning chief, Roland Rivero. “But we never, ever focused on price with the [new] Cerato.”

Dean Norbiato, Kia’s general manager of marketing, explained further that Kia decided to use the Cerato as an inflection point for the brand’s image.

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The turning point was the current generation Cerato, when it launched in 2018.

“When we had the new Cerato there was an option to launch the car on price, because it was really strong on price, or this warm GT hatch,” Mr Norbiato said. “We decided to go richer in our promotion and ever since then we’ve been promoting the GT-Line or the GT variant with every new model, as opposed to advertising on price.”

Mr Meredith admits there’s been some good fortune along the way, but believes Kia is on the right path now to continue its growth and fortify its place as one of Australia’s most popular car companies with the models it has coming down the line.

“Sometimes an ounce of luck is worth a tonne of judgement,” Mr Meredith quipped. But he quickly added: “That’s not to say there haven’t been some great decisions along the way, but the product has driven our success.”

Kia’s sales climb

2022 – 3rd

2021 – 5th

2020 – 6th

2019 – 6th

2018 – 7th

2017 – 9th

2016 – 10th

2015 – 12th

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