Koreans Take Aim at Heart of Europe’s Car Market
The centre ground of Europe’s car market – the five-door family hatchback class dominated by the likes of VW’s Golf, Ford’s European Focus and the Vauxhall Astra – is under concerted attack from a new and unlikely source – Korea.
While the Koreans have been making up ground in recent years with some capable SUVs and MPVs, their family car offerings have up to now traded more on low price and equipment than genuine capability.
All that appears to have suddenly changed with the arrival of the Kia Cee’d and Hyundai i30, two seriously ambitious newcomers which are determined to make an impact for their manufacturers in one of the most fiercely contested battlegrounds there is.
This isn’t an easy section of the market to succeed in. Fiat has fallen by the wayside in recent times with the feeble Stilo, and the jury is still out on the success of their new Bravo. Nissan has more or less given up the fight after the lukewarm reception given to the Almera.
Up to now Hyundai’s Accent and Elantra have hardly been taken seriously, while Kia has juggled a bewildering variety of second-rate models like the Shuma, Mentor and Cerato, all hailed at the time as major steps forward, but which have in fact come and gone virtually unnoticed.
First off the blocks in this new assault is Kia’s Cee’d, product of a brand new European factory in low-cost Slovakia, one of the EU’s newest member states, and designed and built with the European market firmly in mind.
That means European styling and dimensions, European-sized engines, European build quality and interiors a world away from the Korean cars of just two or three years ago. Without the Kia badge this could easily be a German or French product.
If there is a snag it is possibly the Cee’d looks a little too mainstream, in a market where some rivals are not afraid to stick their necks out and look a little different. Renault’s now aging Megane may not be to everybody’s taste but is certainly distinctive, whilst Honda has enjoyed notable success with their futuristic-looking British-built Civic.
Another questionable issue is the name. Pronounced “seed”, it is (according to the not-very-logical explanation) supposed to mean something about Community of Europe and European design. It doesn’t work well.
Currently built in Korea, but soon to transfer to another brand-new factory, this time in the Czech Republic, the i30 looks like the Ce’ed because they are effectively twins. Like Peugeot and Citroen, Hyundai and Kia are two faces of the same company, although they don’t seem to have sorted out separate identities very well at this stage – no-one would ever mistake Peugeot’s new 308 for Citroen’s C4, for example.
The Hyundai is just coming on to the market. Early pictures suggest it looks a little bit more handsome and distinctive than its Kia sibling, but there’s not a lot to it. Neither would look out of place on a European highway or driveway, but neither would stand out that much either.
Kia’s faith in its Cee’d is backed by a remarkable seven year, 100,000 mile warranty which should certainly help maintain resale value (not Korea’s best achievement to date) and compensate for the fact that the company’s pricing is much less keen than in the past.
Hyundai and Kia certainly deserve plaudits for the confidence they have shown in taking the fight to home ground of VW, Ford, Peugeot and the like. They certainly haven’t skimped on investment in new product and facilities, and further derivatives are already in the pipeline, including station wagon versions of both cars, plus a sporty three-door version of the Kia with another clumsy name, the Procee’d.
What remains to be seen is whether European consumers spending their own hard-earned cash will see the cars as genuinely desirable alternatives to an already capable and well-established range of rivals with older and far better known badges, bigger dealer networks and better second-hand values.
The other possibility is that the Cee’d and i30 end up as examples of good cars which somehow fail to realise their potential. Sales of the two vehicles over the next year or so should make interesting reading.
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