"Most of our customers, when we did clinics, they looked at it and they didn't see it as a minivan," Russell Wager, vice president of marketing for Kia Motors America, told Automotive News. "That's actually where we got the idea that [the Carnival] has an opportunity for greater appeal. It has greater capability. A minivan doesn't fully describe what this thing can do. It has the utility, the flexibility, [and] the design has a little bit of that SUV attitude. That's kind of what we wanted to demonstrate in our communications to the customers."
The Carnival has the goods to help it play in the minivan space, but the automaker doesn't want to link the vehicle with a segment that has been declining for more than a decade.
Kia is thinking broader, with an eye on snagging sedan owners who are ready for a crossover — only to find themselves intrigued by the Carnival and its SUV-like proportions.
The Carnival, which began hitting dealerships in March, could even attract some unexpected eyeballs.
Wager said one customer walked in a Kia store in Phoenix looking for the popular Telluride, the brand's fast-selling eight-seater, but saw the Carnival and opted for that instead.
Matt Degen, editor of Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, said Kia was wise to give the Carnival a Telluride-like design. Technically, though, it's still a minivan, Degen said.
"No matter what you call this, if you are a family who needs seating for seven or eight and you want that ease of access and that flexibility, you're going to find this vehicle one way or the other," Degen said. "I think it's great that they're doing this because the world is shifting toward SUVs. People want those more ruggedized looks, or those blockier looks."
Wager said the Carnival is building on what Kia started with the Telluride, Seltos and Sorento crossovers.
"It's not that we're afraid of 'minivan,' " he said. "When we did the clinic, the customers are saying, 'Well, the exterior is in line with your Telluride and Sorento, so it's just another derivative of your capable SUVs that you have out there.' We're not trying to avoid it; the customers have told us that that's not what the vehicle is."
Kia isn't the first automaker that has attempted to drop the minivan label on a capable family hauler or to adopt the term MPV, which is commonly used in other parts of the world. Mazda sold a minivan that was actually called the MPV; it was fortified with all-wheel drive, which Degen said gave it the credentials of a utility vehicle.