7 Things a Kia Pickup Truck Needs to Succeed In America
It’s not as easy as simply building a pickup and letting everything fall into placeby Kirby Garlitos, on
So, Kia’s looking into entering the pickup truck market. It’s not exactly ground-breaking news, but it remains interesting for the simple reason that the Korean automaker has never even come close to sniffing this segment in the years that it’s been around. But times have changed and so have consumer preferences. Pickup trucks — compact, midsize, heavy-duty — are growing in popularity once again and Kia wants a piece of the action. No less than the company’s chief operating officer and executive vice president at Kia Motors America, Michael Cole, admitted that at the 2019 New York Auto Show in a conversation with Motor Trend. Cole believes that “there’s enough opportunity” in the pickup market for Kia. More importantly, Kia’s already started the process to put a pickup into production. So, this is happening. But just because it’s happening, it doesn’t mean that Kia’s got it all figured out. The automaker is a neophyte in the pickup truck market, and if it hopes to succeed in this segment, specifically in the U.S. market, it needs to make sure that it knows and understands what it’s getting itself into.
Any pickup that wants to establish itself in America needs to look good. I don’t mean >just look good in the general sense; I mean look good to catch people’s eyes. We all know how much presentation matters in the auto industry, and while pickups aren’t usually held to the same aesthetic standards as coupes, sedans, or SUVs, it’s still something that Kia needs to understand if it wants to make an impression in this market. And as always, first impressions boil down to visuals. Now, Kia already has something to work on with the Telluride, which hints at what the automaker’s future utility vehicles could look like.
The good news is that the Telluride already fits the part of a tough and rugged-looking SUV. Perhaps a few tweaks could be done, particularly to fit into the profile a boxy truck.
I think Kia’s up to the task on that one. Eventually, a Telluride-inspired pickup could look something like a boxy truck with an upright greenhouse, giving it a more conventional truck look that. I also wouldn’t mind seeing the Telluride’s front section on the pickup. If anything, the SUV’s front fascia looks more like a pickup than an SUV. Kia already has a good foundation for this; all it needs to do is execute it properly.
While there is such a thing as “lifestyle” pickups these days, Kia should do everything it can to avoid that sub-segment. Why? Well, Hyundai already plans to hit it with the production version of the Hyundai Santa Cruz. The lifestyle pickup sub-segment has become popular these days as the truck market itself has become diverse in its own right.
But if Kia really wants to establish its roots in the market, it needs a pickup that checks off all the fundamental qualities of a good pickup.
Simply put, it needs to be off-road oriented. That comes in a number of different forms — higher ride height, an off-road-tuned suspension, customizable options — but the true identity of a pickup is its ability to go anywhere, or at least in places where other types of vehicles can’t go. It sounds romanticized, sure, but it’s also true. A pickup’s looks may be the first thing people notice when they’re buying one, but ultimately, they’re not going to bring out their wallets or checkbooks if they believe that they can’t rely on a pickup to get the job done, no matter where it ends up in. There is a time and a place for Kia to experiment with the kind of pickup it wants to offer in the U.S. market. But that time isn’t now.
Pickups need power as much as they do anything, and if Kia wants its pickup to get noticed, it needs to install a powerful enough engine that will attract American buyers. Fortunately, the Korean automaker has enough engines to choose from to use on its pickup. The question is which one it should use. If Kia launches a compact pickup, a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 191 horsepower should be enough to get potential buyers to take it seriously.
If Kia decides that a midsize pickup is the way to go, it can tap into its joint parts bin with Hyundai and pick a suitable engine that can get the job done, including a lot of turbocharged units.
A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that features at least 235 horsepower is a solid choice. If a V-6 is needed, there’s a 3.8-liter V-6 engine that produces 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The choice of engine isn’t all about power, too. Specific features that are exclusive to pickups — payload, towing and hauling specifically — are all tied into the kind of engine they have. Bigger and more powerful engines help pickups with their towing and hauling needs, but they also consume more fuel. The right engine needs to have a good balance of both.
2020 Kia Telluride specifications
|Engine||3.8L, V6, Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) Lambda-II|
|Displacement (cc)||3,778 CC|
|Horsepower||291 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||262 lb.-ft. @ 5,200 rpm|
|Valve System||DOHC with DUAL CVVT|
|Fuel System||Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI)|
|Rec. Fuel||Unleaded Gasoline (Regular 87 or higher)|
|Fuel tank capacity (gal.)||18.8 gallons|
|Curb weight||4,112 lbs|
|Towing capacity Automatic transmission, FWD (lbs.)||5000|
|Towing capacity Automatic transmission, AWD (lbs.)||5000|
Variety isn’t something you’d expect to see on this list, but if you’re familiar with the pickup segment in the U.S., variety is as important a factor in a model’s success as anything that’s associated with utility trucks. One of the first things Kia needs to do is establish the size of its pickups. Notice how I wrote it in plural form?
It’s fine if Kia decides to tap into just one pickup size — the midsize truck segment is the obvious choice — but Kia should also at least consider if it can enter the heavy-duty truck market to see if there’s any potential there.
It’s easier said than done considering that the Korean automaker would have to compete against heavy-duty versions of established titans like the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and RAM. But if there’s a roadmap there that Kia can lay the groundwork on, it’s something that it should obviously consider.
Utility is the name of the game
There are many pickups today that fall short on utility. People still buy them, though, because these models already have strong fan and customer bases. Kia doesn’t have any of that yet, so its pickup needs to offer actual utility. Now, “utility” in pickups come in many forms. It can be through a carefully designed and versatile bed that has enough space for items like bikes, surfboards, or even heavy equipment. It can be through the kind of complementary tools it offers to go along with the pickup. It can also be through its towing and hauling capabilities.
Granted, some of these items and features naturally depend on the size of the truck, but there’s also a difference between offering these features for the sake of offering them or offering them because these features are actually worth your somebody’s time and money.
If anything, Kia should look at what some of the established pickup brands have done in recent years when it comes to offering top-of-the-line utility features on their trucks. The RAMs and Chevrolets of the world have taken to develop high-tech tailgates or trick tailgates as some people refer to them. Kia doesn’t need to go that far from the get to, but it does show how evolved and sophisticated the pickup truck market has become. At the very least, Kia will need to show this market that it can cater to its needs, especially when it comes to a pickup’s utility and functionality.
Accessory friendly and open to the aftermarket world
American car buyers are big on accessories and customization, and that’s not limited to sedans, SUVs, or sports cars. Pickup trucks are some of the most customized vehicles in the country, and Kia’s pickup will go a long way in establishing a fanbase if it can offer a range of accessories and customization opportunities for those who buy it.
Accessories are important because of a pickup’s multi-purpose identity and functionality, whether it’s the kind of tires it uses, interior utility, or even something as trivial as tools for its bed.
Kia needs to offer a lot of them for its future pickup. Granted, Kia doesn’t have any control over what the aftermarket world can offer, but it can control the options that are compatible or can be installed in its truck. If buyers see that Kia’s pickup can be heavily customized to fit their needs and wants, it opens up the vehicle to a much bigger market and fanbase.
Strong price point
At the end of the day, buyers buy things on whether they can afford it or not. It doesn’t matter how fancy a pickup truck is or how capable it is off the beaten path. If it’s expensive, people will look elsewhere. Compact pickup trucks typically carry price tags that start at around $20,000. A Nissan Frontier, for example, will set you back around $20K while a Toyota Tacoma starts at around $25,000. It’s the same story in the midsize truck segment.
Pickups in this category have prices that start at around $28,000 to $35,000.
The Ford F-150, for example, starts at $28,155 while Jeep’s new Gladiator pickup will set you back at least $33,000. Kia needs to find a sweet spot in terms of pricing for its pickup. It also needs to justify the price because the last thing its pickup needs is a price tag that doesn’t live up to the expectations of its potential buyers. We can discuss all there is to discuss about Kia’s pickup and what it can or can’t do. But at the end of the day, if people think it’s not worth their hard-earned money, they’re not going to buy it.
Read our full review on the 2020 Kia Telluride.
Read our full review on the 2016 Kia Telluride Concept.
Read our full review on the 2015 Hyundai Santa Cruz Crossover Truck Concept.