[THE INVESTOR] Sibling rivalry is heating up as Kia Motors' subcompact SUV Stonic makes its debut on July 13, hot on the heels of Hyundai Motor’s Kona.
Hyundai and Kia, the nation’s top two carmakers under one parent -- Hyundai Motor Group -- have unveiled brand new cars in the booming subcompact SUV segment. The looks are contrasting. But as both Kona and Stonic essentially target the same young crowd in their 20s to 30s, market watchers are concerned the siblings will end up cannibalizing sales in the small Korean auto industry.
All eyes are on whether the much-touted Kona will claim the compact SUV crown, despite its late arrival in the segment.
Kona, Chung Eui-sun’s car
Kona, Hyudai’s first B-segment SUV, has been selling like hot cakes, clinching over 7,000 orders since its launch exactly a month ago. The stakes are high. Hyundai’s new car is tasked to bolster the carmaker’s SUV lineup, as well as revive its protracted sales slump.
Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun speaks at Kona's Seoul premiere last month.
“With Kona, Hyundai aims to capture the subcompact segment that is dominated by SsangYong Motor’s Tivoli,” an industry source close to the carmaker told The Investor on condition of anonymity. “Hyundai is at a pivotal point and it cannot afford to go easy on even Stonic.”
Hyundai has been making all-out efforts to market Kona. Hyundai Motor Group Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun personally introduced Kona at the global premiere event on June 13, which gave Kona the nickname “Chung’s Car.” Hyundai heir apparent’s rare presentation -- while donning a T-shirt sporting the Kona logo matched with a pair of jeans and tennis shoes -- stresses just how much the auto giant is emphasizing the latest offering by its bigger affiliate.
“The competition is already fierce among dealers even before the Stonic has hit the market,” said a Hyundai dealer who wished to be unnamed. “There is even more pressure to perform well as two cars in the same segment are launched at around the same time. But Kona is stronger, boasting better specs and striking design that will stand out against Stonic.”
Stonic with cheaper price tag
The first generation Kona is a bit bigger in size, measuring 4,165mm in length, 1,800mm in width and 1,550 in height, in comparison to Stonic -- 4,140mm in length, 1,760mm in width and 1,520mm in height.
The two cars are powered by the same powertrain, the 1.6-liter diesel engine mated to a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Gasoline option -- of 1.6-liter turbo engine -- is only available for Kona.
At the moment, Stonic will come only in diesel version here.
“We decided to only launch the diesel model to fulfill consumer’s expectation for an SUV while providing price and fuel efficiency benefits,” said Seo Bo-won, Kia’s domestic marketing director. “We will make a decision (about the gasoline model) after observing consumer demand.”
The car performance, however, differs. Kona delivers 136 horsepower on its diesel powertrain, while Stonic is at 110 horsepower. Both produce 30.6 kilogram-force meters torque. Meanwhile gasoline-powered Kona produces 177 horsepower and 27 kilogram-force meters torque.
When it comes to price and fuel efficiency, Stonic leads the game. Stonic’s diesel car starts at an affordable 18.95 million won (US$16,550), the cheapest among compact car rivals, while diesel Kona has a price tag of 20.9 million won. The highest Prestige trim Stonic is priced at 22.9 million won, while Kona’s gasoline model ranges between 18.95 million won up to 28.75 million won for its highest trim.
Stonic boasts fuel efficiency of 17 kilometers per liter, while Kona diesel is at 16.8 kilometers per liter.
“Stonic offers great fuel efficiency and performance at a very reasonable price tag,” a Kia dealer told The Investor . “Many people choose a compact car as their first vehicle. Considering young consumers make decisions based on practicality and efficiency, Stonic has a definite price advantage over Kona.”
Kona goes to US alone
When it comes to the global market, Stonic is not planning to enter the all-important US market at all, according to a Kia executive, but instead will focus on the domestic and European market.
Kia is mum on ruling out a US entry. Industry watchers, however, say Kia appears to be avoiding competition with its bigger brother Hyundai, which is planning to release Kona in the country in December, in the relatively small compact SUV market in the US.
Hyundai, however, dismissed that Stonic’s entry will disturb Kona’s sales, saying the two are very different cars that cater to different customers.
“Kona and Stonic’s size and interior are similar, but the platform is totally different, making the price and driving performance distinct,” Lee Kwang-guk, Hyundai’s executive vice president heading domestic sales told reporters earlier this week.
The entry of two new models will heat up competition, but it will also expand the whole compact SUV pie that is expected to grow further, industry pundits say.
“The competition will be fierce, but if Hyundai and Kia can differentiate the target customers, both carmakers will be able to sell the cars well,” said Kim Pil-soo, an automotive engineering professor at Daelim University.
“The Kona and Stonic cars will expand the compact SUV market that is growing at fast pace.”
In 2016, 107,000 compact SUVs were sold in the Korean market, up from 12,000 in 2013. Last year, the top seller Tivoli sold 28,886 units.
Market watchers expect the compact SUV market to expand to 120,000 units in 2022.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)