Martin Brennan on how the Korean marques are making inroads
KOREAN brands Hyundai and Kia are bucking the trend by growing their car sales here and in Europe as most of the other established marques are finding the tough economic conditions an uphill struggle.
New stylish models are right up there with the best of the European design houses and in recent years the improved quality of materials and interior design has found favour with a motoring public shopping around for the best value for their euro. The ace in the pack for the Koreans is, of course, their best-in-industry warranties -- seven years on Kia products and a five-year unlimited mileage warranty on Hyundai.
Hyundai is the fastest growing brand on the Irish market with sales up by 30 per cent and now with a market share of 6.5 per cent (up from 4.2 last year) at a time when the market has shrunk by 13 per cent. The company has an ambitious target of an 8 per cent market share for next year.
Kia is also on the move with sales up by 18 per cent this year, giving a 4 per cent market share and the target for next year of 4.5 per cent rising to 5 per cent by 2015. The two related brands now account for 10.5 per cent of the new car market here.
Kia has just launched its new Cee'd Sportswagon which has more headroom and legroom. The tailgate is designed to make it easier to load goods into the boot area which has 528 litres of space compared to 380 litres in the 5-door Cee'd hatchback. It comes in two trim levels with the standard TX version well kitted out with air conditioning, Bluetooth, audio remote controls and Hill Assist. It is powered by a 1.4 litre diesel 90 bhp engine or a more powerful 1.6 litre diesel 128 bhp engine. The EX version has a choice of both engines and adds 16" alloy wheels, cruise control, flexible steering system, fog lights and parking sensors. The prices start at €21,795 rising to €24,095. No petrol engines are offered as demand is still for Band A low fuel consumption/low C02 emission economy with the cheapest road tax, The 1.6 litre version which emits 100g/km C02 gives the most enjoyable drive and is a versatile people/goods carrier.
Kia will have a whole new product range in two years. The new Rio (which is Continental Irish Car of the Year), Cee'd hatchback and the Sportswagon will be joined early next year by an all new seven-seater Carens, a three-door Pro-Cee'd and later there will be a high-performance Cee'd. There are plans to sell 450 Sportswagons next year.
Hyundai has just launched the third generation of the Santa Fe which has sleeker lines and a very executive look. Dealers gave it an enthusiastic welcome and there was strong talk of it moving into Lexus territory.
The reduction in C02 levels and tweaking of the 2.2 litre CRDI diesel engine means that the road tax bill which was €1,000 a year is now down to €330. This combined with a good driving position, extra space and a good road presence will encourage repeat sales.
There are three levels of specification: the Comfort line, the Executive level and on special offer only is the Premium level which adds 19" alloys, panoramic sunroof and sat/nav. This version comes with automatic transmission and 4WD.
Prices start at €26,995 for the entry level 2WD, with the Executive 4WD at €40,995 (€4,000 extra for automatic transmission). The top version is priced at €48,995.