SEDONA, Ariz. - Kia Motors America Inc. is extending its product line into the minivan segment using familiar selling points: a low price and a long warranty.
The minivan is the 2002 Sedona, which is on sale. When a marketing push begins next month, the Korean automaker will tout the Sedona as the largest and most powerful minivan in the United States that sells for less than $20,000.
It will start at $19,590, including a $595 destination charge. The Sedona also will carry Kia's standard 10-year, 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty.
When compared with import nameplates, the Sedona stands out as a price leader. The Toyota Sienna, for example, begins at $24,385; the Nissan Quest starts at $22, 979; and the Mazda MPV begins at $21,155.
The Sedona is based on the redesigned Kia Carnival, which has been sold in Korea for six months. The Sedona is conservatively styled. Except for the bulbous fascia, it could easily be mistaken for a Dodge Caravan.
Its 3.5-liter V-6 engine is built by Kia's parent, Hyundai Motor Co. in Korea. The same engine will be used in a sport-utility that Kia plans to sell for the 2003 model year.
The minivan's transmission was developed by adding a fifth gear to the four-speed automatic shared by the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata.
Korean mantra: More for less
Kia isn't counting on a low sticker price alone.
It will pitch a base model with a host of features that are optional on many of its competitors. A bare-bones Sedona comes with tilt steering wheel, cruise control, power driver seat, dual sliding doors, a full-sized spare tire, power locks and power windows.
The higher-trim level, the EX, has chrome accents, outside mirror defoggers, aluminum wheels, wood-grain instrument panel trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a roof rack and second-row bucket seats. Pricing for the EX starts at $21,590 with the destination charge.
Randy Marsted, Kia's director of product planning, said the company wanted to offer a base-model van with enough equipment to satisfy most people.
'There's a lot of vans out there and a lot of options, and it's very confusing,' he said at the Sedona's press preview in Sedona, Ariz. 'When you add the price of all those options, the van you were looking at for $24,000 is now $27,000 or $28,000.'
Sedona options include four-wheel antilock brakes for $595 and a rear spoiler for $170. Buyers of the EX model also can purchase a sunroof for $575, leather seats for $850 and an integrated Homelink system for $125. Homelink, built by Johnson Controls Inc., allows drivers to control home features, such as garage doors and porch lights, from buttons on the vehicle's console.
The Sedona is Kia's second light truck. It joins four cars and the Sportage sport-utility.
'Kia is continuing with the process of the Korean brands providing an extreme amount of features for far below the price of competitors,' said industry analyst Wes Brown of Nextrend, a research firm in Thousand Oaks, Calif. 'The features in the Sedona make it really aggressive for that price point.'
Kia says it will aim the Sedona primarily at married female buyers with children, with an annual income of $60,000-plus.
Kia hopes to sell 20,000 to 24,000 Sedonas in its first model year. Kia spokesman Geno Effler said it expects half of those models to be the base model, the LX.
Raising the image
Though quality of Kia products has greatly improved in the past couple of years, as have its sales, public perception of Korean quality has yet to catch up with the improvements, said Brown. Kia continues to be listed below industry average in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality survey.
But Brown said the latest vehicles introduced into popular segments by Hyundai Motor America and Kia will help boost Korean brand image.'It's vehicles like the Santa Fe, and now the Sedona, that will pull consumers away from that perception of the Korean brands,' he said.
Brown also said the features offered, in the Sedona's case, may be enough to overcome trepidation buyers may have about Kia's quality.
Said Brown: 'The average minivan buyer is acutely going to be looking at what you're going to get for your money.'