‘We still have too many people not aware of Kia and certainly not behind the wheel of one of our cars’ – Kia MD Paul Philpott
PARIS Motor Show was the place that Kia chose to launch its latest version of the Rio supermini. With the progression towards downsizing engines and cars in the small business sector, we spoke to UK MD Paul Philpott on Kia’s corporate plans for the new car and beyond.
- I know it’s really early days, but do you see the new Rio as more of a business choice than perhaps the previous model was?
“Rio has had good success in retail, but I think has been slightly less successful in fleet and business. Yet, there is a good market there without getting dragged into some of the higher cost fleet channels.
“There are three things we’ve tried to address, first while trying to maintain the exterior dimensions, it still fits right in the heartland of the B-Segment. We’ve significantly increased the interior space and its practicality. For people who spend a lot of time in their car it’s important.
“The second thing we’ve faced common criticism with in the current car is the quality of interior materials – the feel of the switchgear and the features. If you sat in today’s Rio, then sat in the car we’ve just revealed, you see it’s a big leap forward.
“The third is whole area of technology and new Rio has a choice of navigation systems, in the central binnacle, that will become a feature of many of our cars.
‘You now have a choice of navigation systems, you also have a choice of infotainment systems that can run Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which increasingly we’re seeing a demand for – particularly from people who spend a lot of time in their cars.
“So I think how I’d describe this car is that it’s more grown-up, more mature and therefore, I think, represents a better fleet and business opportunity than the previous generation.
Plus the addition of the 1.0-litre GDi, low displacement petrol engine gives us another string to offer to fleet user-choosers.”
- What do you anticipate the fleet/retail mix to be for the new Rio?
“Current mix on Rio is about 70% retail and 30% fleet and I think on the new car, we will see something more like 60:40 – because I think well specified, good driving, small cars, are increasingly demanded by fleet customers. So I think it’s a good opportunity for us.
“I think right now, critical for any fleet buyer is CO2 for taxation purposes, both power outputs of the 1.0-litre GDi will be less than 100g/km of CO2, but I still think there’s a place for diesel too.”
- Going on current knowledge of spec, what do you anticipate being the key trim level for business buyers?
“I think 2 and 3. I think we’ll see fleet user-choosers downsizing, that gives us an opportunity with higher-spec B-Segment cars. I think certainly in finalising our grade line-up, we’re looking at the key requirements of user-choosers – like navigation.
“At what grade do we bring in navigation? Until now, we’ve brought it in at 3 trim level. Now to be able to bring it in at 2, we know it’s a key requirement for fleet users, so we are talking with our fleet team to find the perfect make up for user-choosers.
‘I think specification is critical, this is the first car in Kia range where Autonomous Emergency Braking comes with pedestrian recognition.
“So for a car being driven higher mileage, increased pedestrian safety is a nice added feature. So, the Rio will be the first in our range to have that.”
- What do you think are going to be the key attractions of the Kia Rio for the small business user?
“Firstly interior space, the amount of time people spend in their cars is increasing all of the time. Then quality, functionality and key specification – that is mainly technology.
“A big talking point is texting while driving, with this infotainment system, you can do voice recognition, dictating texts on the journey. That is valuable technology for those that are in their cars – much safer technology! You don’t think of infotainment systems as safety technology, but if you can do it by voice, it’s no different from using a hands-free phone.”
- Are you going to do anything differently to make SMEs aware of the Rio?
“The obvious thing to say is, we’ll be spending significant sums on advertising in the first quarter, with TV and digital as the main media. That will be out to attract fleet, business users and retail buyers. Of the back of that, clearly we need to get demonstrators out to the leasing companies, so that they understand what a good fleet proposition the Rio is.
“Our fleet team are already working on their launch plan for the new Rio, but with view that perhaps in the past with our small cars we’ve been guilty of having a retail launch plan that fleet have piggybacked off the back of. This time we’re looking at both a retail and fleet launch and we’re finalising that right now.”
- With Kia’s drive to be more accepted as a business car supplier, are there any plans to change the brand to reflect this?
“I don’t think that the brand should stand for anything different for the fleet industry over the retail industry. We’re a very consistent brand proposition, but what I think will be increasingly attractive to fleet users is our range of powertrains.
‘I think we’ve got to focus more on Kia’s technological advances. I think we’ve focused a lot on our design advances and our warranty. Of which, design is appealing, but is slightly less relevant to business users.
“What you’ll see over the coming years, is a greater focus on technical advancements and driving dynamics. Albert Biermann started with the group just over a year ago and I think what you’ll see is a focus on driving dynamics in Rio. Alongside that, greater technological advancements to the kit inside our cars.
“I think those features are the ones we’ll be playing on in future communications going forward. It’s about putting people in cars and experiencing them first hand. Not just telling them about it – we are looking at how we can get more people behind the wheel of a Kia.
“We are 25 years old this year, that’s not very long in the car industry, compare that to Ford or Mercedes that are over 100 years and we’re the new boys.
“We still have too many people not aware of Kia and certainly not behind the wheel of one of our cars. We need to focus on the test drive in the third and fourth quarters and getting people to experience Kia for the first time, because people are genuinely surprised how good our cars are.”