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Optima key to Kia's fleet growth

Date: 14 March 2016   |   Author:

The new Optima - which will be available in petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid form - is central to Kia's continued growth in fleet, UK president and CEO Paul Philpott told BusinessCar at the Geneva motor show.

The Optima upper medium saloon and newly unveiled Sportswagon estate are "clearly going to be a key focus of our fleet growth strategy going forward", Philpott stated.

The Optima will be available in 1.7-litre diesel, plug-in hybrid and performance GT form and "each of those plays a key role", according to Philpott.

Offering the "biggest volume opportunity" in the fleet market is the Sportswagon, which will also be available in plug-in hybrid format during 2017, Philpott revealed. This comes as the addition of an estate moves Kia from having around a third of segment coverage to 75%, with the upcoming 37g/km saloon and similarly frugal Sportswagon PHEV offering an "attractive fleet proposition" with minimal benefit-in-kind costs.

The crossover Niro hybrid model has an important role to play with both fleet and retail customers too, Philpott claimed, despite modest initial sales targets. While 22,500 of the Sportage off-roader were sold in 2015 and 5000 new models ordered in the first three weeks of 2016, Philpott stated that Kia is aiming for initial annual volumes of 2500-3000 for the Niro, with the expectation of ramping up sales in future.

While the Sportage has many loyal customers propping up sales, the Niro is likely to conquest buyers from other brands, according to the Kia boss, which should help the company towards its 100,000 annual sales target. While some other more affordable brands have struggled to shake off their low-rent image, Kia is adept at stealing customers from more upmarket brands, Philpott added:

"We don't mind taking volume from anybody - we've taken enough volume from everything from a Fiat to a Range Rover."

Philpott expects the Optima to win over fleet users who have previously driven VW Passats, Ford Mondeos and Vauxhall Insignias. However, this base could grow much broader with the arrival of the Optima plug-in hybrid, he stated.

Looking to the future, Philpott sees plug-in hybrid and hybrid models as core to the Kia brand, hinting that the Niro could receive new powertrain options at a later stage: "I think plug-in hybrid and hybrid together give you the benefit of ease of driving and ease of use, while still using conventional fuel."

Should Kia's latest hybrid models be able to match the success of Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV "then plug-in hybrid quickly becomes a very important part of our range", claimed Philpott.

However, Kia is unlikely to follow in Volvo's steps of vowing to introduce a PHEV version of all new models from now on: "I think plug-in hybrid will be introduced to other cars in the range, but we equally mustn't be like kids in a sweetshop and have all powertrains in all models," he concluded.