Why Kia is more sporty than Volkswagen

Kia_GT_concept-G0

Yesterday I was reading Kia’s announcement about the need to raise its brand image by offering more sporty cars – you know, the usual marketing rhetoric about being perceived as a dynamic brand, characterised by style, a premium look and some mystical notion of power. And then the following words struck me – “..it will almost certainly be rear-wheel drive”.

This comes at a time when the next-generation BMW 1 Series looks almost certain to be front-wheel drive, and when neither Volkswagen, Audi, Seat, Ford (Europe), Vauxhall/Opel, Alfa Romeo or Renault have a rear-wheel drive model in their arsenal.

And yet Kia has all but decided it will adopt rear-wheel drive as its drivetrain of choice for sporty models.

Can I hear a Hallelujah?

This is all part of Kia’s move to add sports and performance cars to its range, beginning with next year’s second-generation pro_cee’d, which made its debut at September’s Paris Motor Show.

The performance version of the new pro_cee’d will be powered by a 200bhp 1.6-litre direct-injection turbo engine and offered with either a six-speed manual or double-clutch transmission. It will go into production sometime in the middle of next year.

The pro_cee’d is, of course, front-wheel drive, but the car maker is considering producing a rear-wheel-drive coupé based on the 2011 GT concept.

Kia’s vice-chairman and CEO Hyoung-Keun (Hank) Lee said, “..the company is “seriously looking” at the idea of building a car based on the GT coupé concept from last year’s Frankfurt show. If it goes ahead it will almost certainly be RWD.”

He went on to say, “In my opinion a sports car should be RWD. When I was at Hyundai we tried the Coupé with front-wheel drive. It was considered sporty looking, but the driveability was different.

“We haven’t decided yet, but we need a certain product to help with our brand image. We have tried a couple of concept cars and found some potential in the GT. We will try a couple more in the future, starting at Geneva next year, and test the media and consumer response before choosing one.”

Kia last had a sports car in its range, when in 1997 it bought the design rights to the front-wheel drive Lotus Elan and began a small production run. Unfortunately, a year later Kia went bust and was bought by Hyundai, who now own a 51% stake.

If you ask most German car executives about which automotive brands they fear the most, the answer will usually be Hyundai/Kia – and with good reason. Hyundai is the second largest car maker in Asia behind Toyota and the second fastest growing automotive brand globally.

With Chief Designer Peter Schreyer at the helm (the man responsible for the original Audi TT) and a pot of cash to invest in adventurous new models, you’d be a fool to bet against Kia realising their ambitions – and that means we’re likely to see more RWD sports cars reach the market as their competitors try and fend off their challenge.

Whether you’re already a fan of Kia or not, that has to be seen as good news.