The Kia Rondo: Canadian Rock Star, American Failure. Why?

August 17, 2011
2010 Kia Rondo

2010 Kia Rondo

We paused for a moment of silence in 2010, when we learned that there would be no  2011 Kia Rondo in the United States market. We praised the compact multi-purpose vehicle for its versatility and interior space efficiency, or as Kia’s marketing people referred to it, “cabinosity.”

Neither cabinosity nor “giddyupedness” (another Kia marketing term) were enough to save the Rondo in the United States, and buyers largely ignored its 2010 Mazda5 rival. It seems that we prefer our people carriers in either SUV, crossover or minivan format, and the Rondo (like the Mazda5) exists just outside those categories.

In Canada, however, the Rondo is a hit, selling on par with the Mazda5. Canadian buyers embrace the Rondo for its flexibility and value, and Canadian Kia dealers are eagerly awaiting a next-generation Rondo, due to debut in the next few years. In other words, the Rondo isn’t leaving the Canadian market any time soon.

The Kia Rondo isn’t the only vehicle embraced by our neighbors north of the border, yet largely ignored by the American consumer. Toyota’s Matrix, with its available all-wheel drive and hatchback sensibility, has been a best seller in Canada since launch.

Here, on the other hand, the Matrix is often tucked away in the back of the Toyota dealer’s lot.  Americans favor the Toyota Corolla sedan, but (until recently) Canadians preferred the Matrix hatchback.

The Mazda3 is another perennial bestseller in Canada, but it struggles to compete with the Chevy Cruze, the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic in the United States. In 2011, Americans bought just under 61,000 Mazda 3s through July, yet purchased over twice as many Honda Civics, Chevy Cruzes and Toyota Corollas.

Canadians still embrace the Chevy Cruze and the Honda Civic, but neither sells in the quantity that the Mazda3 does. In fact, only the new 2011 Hyundai Elantra outsold the Mazda3 in Canada last month, so time clearly hasn’t dimmed the Mazda3 appeal.

What does it all mean? We’re not sure, but we suppose that our neighbors to the North favor compact and fuel-efficient hatchbacks, while we still want our SUVs and full-size minivans. When we buy small cars in America, we favor sedans over hatchbacks, but the increasing popularity of the Ford Focus hatchback may indicate a shift in that trend. 

One thing is clear: predicting what car buyers want isn’t getting any easier, in the U.S. or in Canada.

[The Globe and Mail]

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