Koreans are setting the pace
Kia and Hyundai are very much the coming brands, writes Campbell Spray, and two powerful launches last week will only accelerate that trend
THE GROWING power of Korean brands on the market was demonstrated by two powerful launches last week. The first was by Kia, the second by its sister company Hyundai. They were at opposite ends of the market, with Kia producing a superb well-equipped car that sits in the A or small-city car sector while Hyundai was launching a car with which it has a realistic chance of taking on the big boys of the Ford Mondeo, VW Passat, Opel Insignia and top dog Toyota Avensis in the large family/executive sector.
The style of the launch of the all-new Kia Picanto and a short test drive were in keeping with the car's position in the market. It took place in a nicely low-key way at the Airfield Farm, which is just a short trot away from the surburban shopping extravagance of the Dundrum Centre in south Dublin.
The Hyundai i40, by contrast, had motoring journalists and their partners invited to an overnight at Dublin's plush Merrion Hotel, where they could kick the tyres over cocktails before dinner. (Unfortunately, I had to make my excuses and leave early.)
However, the two launches and the real quality of the cars showed the confidence of both brands and how together they are aiming to carve out a major part of the market, with sales intended to increase by 30 per cent over the next year.
Kia managing director James Brooks pointed out that in the last six years the company had trebled its share of the Irish market to its present 3 per cent, with which it is knocking at a top 10 slot.
Much of this is on the back of the incredibly impressive Cee'd range, the versatile Venga, the new Sportage SUV and the company's groundbreaking seven-year warranty. Already Kia has about 11 per cent of the A- sector and the new Picanto can only build on this.
It is a very substantial and sculpted car with an array of safety and comfort specification in the €12,590 EX model that is unparalleled at such a price. It is a real head turner.
It also comes in with a CO2 figure of 99g/km, which puts it in the lowest road tax band (€104) at the moment.
The new car is powered by a new Kappa three-cylinder 998cc engine that produces 69ps and 95Nm of torque. Standard safety equipment features six airbags (including side curtain airbags), ESC electronic stability control, HAC hill-start assist control, and 'active' front-seat head restraints to protect against whiplash injury in a rear impact. For additional safety, an ESS (emergency stop signal) system is standard. Sensors detect when the driver is braking suddenly and hard and then flash the brake lights three times to alert following drivers that the car is slowing rapidly.
The LX model comes in at €11,495 with the generous safety features described above. It also has front electric windows, remote central locking rev counter and trip computer. The EX trim, which is expected to be the volume seller, adds extra features including air conditioning, steering wheel audio remote control, Bluetooth with voice activation, front fogs, electric/folding mirrors with LED indicators and iPod connection. It is a massive package for such a compact car which still manages to fit four good-sized people with ease and five at a pinch. The luggage space is also good. However, the real test will be in early September when I have the car for a week and will be using it to pick my son up at the airport after a year in the United States.
Kia's drive for market share will be cemented in the autumn with the launch of the supermini Rio. Next summer, the new Cee'd arrives.
Over at the Merrion Hotel on Thursday night the i40 had heads turning too. The car is being launched first in estate or sportwagon mode, because in the rest of Europe that is the dominant style for this executive/family sector. The saloon version will arrive before the end of the year.
The i40 is a really beautiful car which fitted in perfectly outside the luxury hotel across from Government Buildings as its success was toasted with champagne. The Hyundai people made much of their claim that it is a "modern premium" brand which aims to "share premium value with more people".
They also gave a lot of their emphasis to their five-year triple care plan, which they said was the best warranty in the business and even put Kia's seven-year warranty into second place, with a full and unlimited-mileage warranty, roadside assistance and free health checks for the full life of the plan.
Managing director Stephen Gleeson said they wanted the i40 to be seen as a potential European and Irish Car of the Year . "For the first time ever, we are introducing a car that we know is going to be a success," he declared, adding that the i40 was the "most sporty and emotional D segment car."
It is certainly very well-equipped; especially the executive model which comes in at a premium of €1,500 on the starting price of €24,995.
Hyundai's people were at pains to point out the considerable equpiment, price and running cost advantages of the car over its principal rivals.
But they would, wouldn't they! However most of their claims seemed to stack up. I'll know more after a week's test before the end of the month.
There have already been a number of orders for the i40 and I think that the body style is captivating and could turn more people to the lifestyle option of estates. Already, Hyundai plants worldwide are functioning at 100 per cent capacity to meet the demands for what has become a great range of cars and the Veloster, the replacement for the much-loved coupe, is still to come.
Kia and Hyundai are very much the coming brands and it is impossible to dismiss the relevancy of these two marques in terms of style, engineering, warranty and value for money. They are setting the pace.