LAS VEGAS – When the Kia Soul “urban crossover passenger car” arrives in spring, many Americans will see another inexpensive small car intended to get good fuel economy.
Although small cars generally are unprofitable, Kia Motors America dealers will see an opportunity to make money on aftermarket add-ons that many young buyers can’t resist.
Kia’s presence in the U.S. market has grown to include nine vehicles, but the brand has failed to capitalize on the accessory trend that drives events such as the popular Specialty Equipment Market Assn. show held here recently.
All that’s about to change. Kia announces at the SEMA show it will offer 53 accessories for the Soul, and about half of those will be available as soon as January, well before the vehicle even goes on sale.
The Soul represents the first of a series of new Kia models that will come available with a growing number of specialty parts offered by an all-new division created within KMA.
“For the Soul, we will have more accessories at launch than we’ve ever had for any other vehicle,” says Michael Sprague, vice president-marketing for KMA. “It’s setting the tone for all the future launches.”
The parts offered on the Soul will be almost entirely cosmetic inside and out, from shift knobs, doorsill plates, alloy pedals, all-weather floor mats, lighting and interior appliques to a rear spoiler, fender garnish, bike rack, cargo box, front air dam, side sill, rear skirt, 18-in. wheels, bumper protector and chrome wheel locks.
Many of the parts appear on the brooding Soul Burner concept that debuted at the 2008 Geneva auto show and also was on display at SEMA.
Kia will channel the accessories through its 640 U.S. dealers. Sprague quotes studies that show small-car buyers generally add $1,000 worth of accessories, “if not right at the point of purchase, they come back within the next six to 12 months,” he says. “They are anxious to add accessories, so it’s important that we make them available.”
The upper trim, sportier version of the Soul will come from the factory with a lot of accessories already installed, so Sprague says the sales push for specialty parts will target the mid-level models. Pricing for the vehicle has not yet been announced.
Although the Soul will not go on sale until March or April, Kia dealers will begin selling 23 of the accessories in January, and 10 more will become available in March, says Tom Leimkuhler, vice president-parts at KMA. Between April and July, another 20 accessories will be offered, bringing the full complement to 53.
KMA hired Jeff Ferrell as national manager-parts and accessories planning to start the new division dedicated to accessories. Ferrell came from Mazdaspeed, the parts unit ofNorth American Operations.
In the past, Leimkuhler says Kia’s marketing of accessory parts was piecemeal and vehicles in the lineup didn’t lend themselves to customizing. But the new vehicles are more edgy and ripe for add-on parts, which dealers have been eager to sell.
“For two years, they (dealers) have been imploring and asking us for more accessories, that those are the things kids are buying,” he says.
The accessory strategy fits with Kia’s attempt to court young, sporty-minded consumers, while thebrand, a corporate sibling, appeals to more upscale, mature buyers.
Not all Kia vehicles will attract accessory-minded buyers. The new Borrego SUV, for instance, targets older buyers who may not be interested in custom wheels or body kits.
Still, the Borrego is launching with 30 accessories available through dealers, Leimkuhler says.
To encourage Borrego customizing, Kia shows at SEMA a Limited concept SUV with deep, metallic paint, 22-in. chrome wheels, limo-tint windows, chrome fender vents and alligator-print seats.
Also at SEMA, Kia displays the stylish 2-door Koup concept that debuted at the 2008 New York auto show, as well as a Rio5 tuner concept with massive speakers occupying the backseat as part of a 2,000-watt audio system.
Leimkuhler admits the bad economy has forced many consumers to set aside plans to customize their cars. “But from an overall perspective, kids who want accessories are buying accessories,” he says.
Sprague is convinced the specialty-equipment market can survive the economic downturn.
“I think what we’re seeing in this market is people are holding onto their vehicles a bit longer,” he says. “And when you do that, you think, ‘OK, I can’t afford a new vehicle, but I’d like to make it look a little better. So maybe I’ll buy some new wheels. That will get me through another year or two.’ I think the market will be OK.”
The dealers are integral to the success of KMA’s accessory strategy.
“They’ll be the ones on the front lines making sure we have displays and brochures that feature all these parts and images to suggest how the parts will look,” he says. “Customers want to see it on the vehicle.”