According to Automotive News, Kia Motors Corporation (KMC) is prepping to sell a domestic built mid-size pickup in the United States by 2011.
Kia has been studying the U.S. truck market for several years. In 2004 the South Korean auto manufacturer brought the KCV-4 Mojave concept pickup to the Chicago Auto Show. But Kia's truck production plans have ebbed and waned during multiple management shakeups inside Kia Motors America (KMA). There have been four executive level changes in the past three years and seven since 1999.
Now sources say the pickup has finally gotten the buy-in it needs from Byung Mo Ahn, the new chairman and group CEO of KMA and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG). Mr. Ahn replaced ousted Kia Motors CEO Len Hunt in February 2008. He previously ran KMA from 1999 to 2001.
As we heard in 2006, the new pickup is reportedly based on the next-generation, front-wheel-drive (FWD) Sorento and will use that sport utility vehicle's unibody platform and V6 engine. The current Sorento is rear-wheel-drive (RWD) and body-on-frame.
By building a unibody pickup, Kia's strategy will follow the lead set by Honda's Ridgeline instead of traditional small trucks like the Chevrolet Colorado or Toyota Tacoma. We're expecting Kia's pickup will also offer all-wheel-drive (AWD) like the Ridgeline. The Ridgeline uses FWD during dry-pavement cruising, for improved fuel economy, but can send up to 70-percent of the torque to the rear wheels in slippery conditions.
The truck will be built at Kia's soon-to-be-completed $1.2 billion assembly plant in West Point, Georgia, on the same line as the Sorento and a to-be-determined third vehicle. The new factory will have the capacity to produce 300,000 cars and trucks annually. By building it in the United States, Kia will avoid the 25% federal import tax (aka 'Chicken Tax') levied on pickup trucks built overseas, though that tariff is being phased out between now and 2017 through a special free trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea.
While it's yet-to-be-named, Kia renewed its trademarks for the names Mojave and Mohave in August of 2007.
Kia's decision to sell a mid-size truck is a risky one. The segment has been steadily shrinking, down 37% in the past five years as new buyers instead bought full-size trucks. Will American buyers want an unproven Korean truck, especially a unibody? Honda only sold 42,795 Ridgelines last year, down 15% from 2006. And tertiary truck brands like Isuzu (which is leaving the American market) and Mitsubishi have only sold in the low thousands. But high fuel prices are rocking big truck sales, forcing some buyers to look for more fuel efficient pickups. A large shift in truck sales may give the Korean manufacturer the opening it needs for this truck to succeed.
Find out more at Automotive News.