Kia bets on holistic strategy to overcome latecomer hurdle

by Sumantra B Barooah 22 Aug 2019


What will you do if you are a carmaker and want to enter a market tipped to become the world's third-largest in the world, has a relatively low car: people ratio, is extremely competitive with more than 100 models and 15 brands? If you are Kia Motors, you make the debut model score high on design to make that first impression and load it to the gills with features. That's what I felt on my first encounter with the latest midsize SUV in town — the Seltos.

It's not the most favourable time now in the Indian market for OEMs. In about a month or so, it will be a full year of sales decline in the passenger vehicle market. In such an environment, winning customer confidence for a new brand becomes even  more challenging. Therefore, Kia has worked on building the fundamental pillars of product, sales and service stronger than many others at launch. It has set up 265 touch-points (192 service points) in 160 cities along with four warehouses.

Kia Seltos

Seltos scores high on design

While a lot of effort went into developing the car over three years, and the network, the most challenging part for the Korean major in India was building brand awareness. "It was a challenging issue since the past two years when  we came here and then set up our company. We did it with our maximum effort, actually," Yong S Kim, executive director, Sales & Marketing Group, Kia Motors India, tells Autocar Professional. And that's because while the other two factors were almost fully under Kia's control, the consumer awareness or confidence in the brand wasn't. That explains the use of a meerkat, tiger, astronaut, a few ballerinas and finally Bollywood actor Tiger Shroff.  The initial feedback of 'Kia is different, premium' to the marketing campaigns is fuelling Kim's confidence as he and his team prepare to welcome the first customer on August 22.

The Seltos exudes premiumness. The fit, finish and material quality are of a level I would expect in a vehicle of its class or maybe a level above. The seven-inch display in the instrument cluster, a 10.25-inch HD touchscreen infotainment and an eight-inch head-up display (HUD) add to the modern and technology quotient of the SUV. The combiner HUD is a new example of advanced technologies making their way from luxury cars to volume-segment cars now. In the Seltos, the HUD display is quite crisp with options to change font size and colour.

Driving a Kia Seltos

Multiple drive modes add to the driving experience but there's no 4WD

There are three engine options in the Seltos — 1.4L turbo-charged petrol (140PS, 242 Nm), 1.5L petrol (115 PS, 144Nm) and 1.5L diesel (115PS, 250Nm) to choose from. All engines are BS VI-compliant. In terms of transmission, a six-speed manual is available for all engines, while a seven-speed DCT is an option for the 1.4L turbo, an IVT (uses chain instead of belt) for the 1.5L petrol, while the 1.5L diesel gets an automatic gearbox.

I could drive only the diesel auto and the petrol DCT and found their driveability to be quite good. The power delivery was seamless. On the wet Goa roads, there were only a few stretches where the vehicle could gain high speeds. Throughout the routes driven, the vehicle felt quite at home. Kia engineers tuned the Seltos' suspension to a 'stable' mode of driving dynamics.

Beyond the pure mechanical options, there are software-driven features that provide different driving experiences but only in the Seltos with the DCT gearbox.  There are normal, eco, and sport driving modes and also mud, snow/wet and sand modes for varied traction levels.

Kia Seltos engine

Being developed in three years, the Seltos offers a good mix of mechanical and electronic/software tech features. 

It took three years for the development of the Seltos at Hyundai Group's main R&D Centre at Namyang, Korea. Its Hyderabad technical centre also supported with crucial inputs mainly for India-specific engineering. Improved braking distance, reduction in clutch force, and then the common enhanced air-conditioning performance. Oh, there's India-specific dual horn too! Interestingly, the Seltos comes with a factory-fitted 'smart air purifier with AQI display' which Kia claims to be a 'first-in-world' segment feature.

High on connectivity
As the connected vehicle megatrend grows, the new crop of models are somewhat incomplete without this technology.  First introduced in home market Korea in 2003, the Kia's connected car technology has evolved and comes in the Seltos as 'Uvo'. It offers 37 features under the areas of navigation, safety and security, vehicle management, convenience and remote control. However, network fluctuation could play spoilsport at least for some of the features. For example, after pressing the Uvo button in the rearview mirror connecting to the concierge service, I took some time (over 3 minutes) and multiple efforts for the called-for map sent by the call centre executive to reach the infotainment system. Uninterrupted 3G connectivity is required for seamless service, and it will be restricted to only a few features on 2G.

What's an SUV without a sturdy body? Seventy-three percent of the Seltos' body uses high-strength steel for better torsional stiffness, along with optimised weight application. Hot-stamped steel in certain areas of the SUV, increased application of structural adhesives, and up to six airbags enhance the safety quotient of the Seltos.

Kia Seltos infotainment

Network quality may affect some connected features

The Seltos' cabin is quite spacious and some creature comforts like ventilated seats add to the comfort factor. It claims segment-leading shoulder room in the front and legroom in the rear. The Seltos is 4315mm long and 1,800mm wide. Inside the cabin, Bose and Arkamys speakers in different variants and mood lighting of various kinds help occupants relax during the drive.

One area where the Seltos' product planning team may have had to put much extra effort is in the varianting strategy. All features obviously do not come in all variants. Possibly, there could be some rearrangements or additions in features once the Seltos hits the market. For instance, the top-end diesel automatic variant doesn't have the HUD, which I would like to have if I'm its buyer. With a host of permutations and combinations, the customer gets a palette of 16 versions and 13 colours (including dual-tone).

Yong S Kim Kia Seltos

Yong S Kim: "Kia's brand marketing was the biggest challenge in India. The Seltos will help grow the market. We will launch a new model every six months, till we fill up the showrooms!"

With so much to offer, will the Seltos (named after Hercules' son, Celtos) power Kia towards a successful start in India? We think it has good potential. Over to the customer now.

(This article was first featured in the August 15, 2019 issue of Autocar Professional)


 

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