With the Kia Rondo, it seems like it came in like a lamb and went out like a lamb. Nobody even noticed until someone sent in a tip to Autoblog. Even in its demise, Kia has been wishy-washy, simply stating that “Kia has not yet decided on a 2011 model, but the 2010 is still available in dealerships” even though the website makes it abundantly clear that the Rondo is gone in the USA, stating: “All good things must come to an end.”
Kia isn’t the only manufacturer with reservations about this segment in the United States. Chevrolet has recently announced that it will not bring its people mover, the Chevrolet Orlando, to the USA. When pressed for details as to why, GM staffers offered few concrete details and hinted that they felt it would not have competed well in the U.S. market. Do they mean the product or the concept?
Hit the jump to find out.
Speaking of small people movers, the Mazda5 is getting a complete makeover for 2011. Mazda execs say they are confident that the new model will increase sales, with Thomas Pixton, senior managing executive officer, telling Automotive News "We’re looking for a sales increase in the new model because of increased environmental performance and a better interior.” Mazda wants to sell between 20 and 30 thousand of the 2011 Mazda5. For perspective, Mazda sold 18,488 units in 2009.
Ford will also be dipping its toes in the water with the Focus-based Grand C-Max. What is the secret sauce that Ford believes will inspire Americans? "We tried to provide that functionality but with an aspirational design,” says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Ford’s global product development team.
The problem, as many Americans see it, is that these small people movers offer few incentives over their larger brethren. Since full sized minivans are perennially on sale, the price difference between a “mini minivan” and a traditional model isn’t that great.
When it comes to fuel economy, there is also little motivation. The national average for regular in the USA is currently $2.73. The 2010 Mazda5 is rated at 27MPG on the highway and the new 2011 model will post better numbers. However, at least one version of the full sized 2011 Honda Odyssey will offer an estimated 28 MPG on the highway. The four cylinder, EcoBoost equipped 2011 Ford Explorer will also be in this same ballpark. Again, a larger vehicle with little mileage penalty.
As a general rule, finding space for our vehicles in the USA is nowhere near the issue it is for Europeans. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but for the most part, cramming up to seven people into a smaller vehicle does not yield the significant parking benefits that it does for our European counterparts.
Where does this leave us? To be certain, there are reasons why the Rondo only sold 14,206 copies in the USA last year. It wasn’t a particularly attractive design, didn’t have the more practical sliding doors of the Mazda5 and Grand C-Max, it was not heavily marketed, and the whole industry was in a slump. In the meantime, Kia’s lineup has become far better looking with the new 2011 Kia Sportage and the 2011 Kia Optima sedan leading the way, making the Rondo a bit of an old maid.
With powertrain advancements making larger models much more efficient, the European style “space wagon” will have a tough row to hoe in the USA. The new Mazda and Ford products are quite attractive and that will help their case, but they will never reach the volume of mainstream crossovers and minivans. The best these vehicles can do is hope to carve out enough of a market niche to make their existence in the U.S. market worthwhile.