2004 Chicago Auto Show, Part III

February 3, 2004

2004 Chicago Auto Show Index (2/3/2004)

Mojave States Kia’s Pickup Dreams

2004 Kia Mojave concept

2004 Kia Mojave concept

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Kia thinks it has a product fit to compete with the best small pickups in America sooner rather than later. The only problem is there is no place to build it. The Korean automaker unveiled a body-on-frame concept truck called Mojave Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show, saying that the Kia Sorento-based truck is near production ready, but no existing Hyundai production facility is "suitable" to build it, according to Kia Motors of America CEO Peter Butterfield.

Hyundai Motor Co, which owns Kia, plans to have its first U.S. plant in Alabama on line by March 2005 with output potential slated to reach 300,000 units annually by 2007. Butterfield says that “it’s only logical to make (the truck) in America because of import taxes,” but Hyundai has given Butterfield no commitment to making room for Kia’s truck in Alabama as of the Thursday press conference.

Hyundai’s top brass are reportedly planning to expand its truck lineup with mid-size SUVs in coming years in order to reach ambitious global and U.S. sales goals. It currently sells Kia’s sport-utility and minivan here in addition to Hyundai’s Santa Fe, and will start selling two mini-utes — the redesigned Kia Sportage and the new Hyundai Tucson — later this year. Hyundai’s U.S. execs have stated the need for a pickup several times in recent years.

The Kia truck could be relatively simple and cost-effective to build, according Clive Hawkins, who heads Aria, the Irvine, Calif., fabricating shop that crafted Kia’s concept truck. Aria basically tore the sheetmetal off a stock Sorento, which is body-on-frame, lengthened the chassis a foot and went to work building off of Kia’s design for the concept.

Kia will now gauge consumer reaction at the Chicago show and stage focus clinics on the Mojave’s size and styling in order to help the company decide whether or not to produce the vehicle. Consumers and show-goers will have plenty of “delight factor” to react to, according to Hawkins. He says that even though Kia told his firm to keep the overall construction simple and producible, Hawkins was given latitude to include wow factor. The truck has a bed extender feature that allows drivers to stretch the rear bed 15 inches into the cabin. Also, there is no gaping seam between the tailgate and the bed.

One thing is for certain when it comes to Kia's product plans: It will sell its redesigned 2004 Spectra for $12,620, or two percent more than the outgoing model. Butterfield said that there is about $1000 more content on the vehicle. —John D. Stoll

Scion Expands Sales Network

Scion, Toyota’s youth brand, has now expanded out behind its original base in California and as of this month is now on sale in 20 different states, stretching from Maine down the East Coast to Florida and West to Texas.

“Our sales numbers are going to jump from 1500 per month to around 5000 per month,” predicted Jim Farley, Scion’s general manager. Farley added Scion now has 50 dealerships up and running and is shooting for sales of around 75,000 units this year. It could be or it could be less, he added.

Farley also said the Scion xB model remains the best-selling Scion and now accounts for 75 percent of all Scion sales. But Scion is scheduled to add a third model in June, Farley said. Farley added the average age of the Scion buyers remains in the 30s but Toyota is satisfied that Scion is attracting the target audience of young, hip, urban buyers. —Joe Szczesny

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