NEW YORK (Reuters) - Kia Motors Corp’s little Seltos has its work cut out for it.
U.S. President and CEO of Kia Motors America, Kevin Slavin looks on prior to the 2018 Kia Stinger unveiling at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
The South Korean automaker’s electric sedan, which goes on sale in late March, is designed to carry its whole company as it attempts to compete with Tesla Inc. and the mainstream.
The Seltos and the fifth generation of the United States-based, green Korean automaker’s other five models are key members of a group named Soul.
Soul represents Kia’s attempt to break away from being the humblest of all the South Korean automakers. As of 2015, the group comprised four main automakers: its traditional home domestic unit, sedan-focused United States unit, and utilities and urban pickup brands under the Hyundai and Kia brands.
The new Seltos are the first cars with the Soul-tagged badges designed for the global marketplace.
Kia declined to comment on its global sales plans for the new Seltos, which were first announced in late 2017 and previewed at the Detroit auto show last month.
“We are definitely considering more Soul models,” a company spokesman said on Friday.
Soul also symbolizes Kia’s attempts to redefine itself as a company that is globally competitive. The Soul received its global launch in 2011, making it eight years old this year. By comparison, Tesla’s Model S went on sale in 2012.
Analysts say the original Soul, an appealing hatchback, played well with U.S. shoppers, gaining U.S. market share by building on Kia’s vehicles.
The redesigned Seltos will be a challenge to undercut Tesla prices. The base price of the Seltos hatchback, $24,500, is higher than those of the Model 3 sedan by $8,000 and its Model X SUV, which starts at $62,000.
“Given they have a captive dealer network in the U.S., they could sell some of these more at a loss in order to improve brand awareness,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Efraim Levy.
Kia said it will have 670 Soul dealers in the United States by the end of 2018.
The Seltos are the first vehicles in a group the company calls the K900. A sedan it created in 2016, the K900 goes on sale this spring and features a new infotainment system and other features, the company said.
“These cars represent major steps toward our key goal, which is to become a ‘model upon model’ automaker worldwide,” Kia President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Plank said last month in Detroit.
Kia plans to use the K900 to help rival Volkswagen AG’s Audi and BMW AG, the parent of luxury brands Cadillac and BMW, and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.
The carmaker is losing money in the United States and China. Plank’s goal is to surpass Nissan Motor Co. and Japan’s Subaru Corp as the second-largest global automaker by 2022.