The dominant narrative surrounding the industry is the increasing push towards electrification. But internal combustion vehicles can still surprise and delight the automotive press. We may never see a truly revolutionary gasoline product again, but that doesn’t mean a company can’t shake up a segment every once and a while. Such is the case of the Kia Telluride, Motor Trend’s 2020 SUV of the Year. It’s not exactly a game changer. Just an extremely solid offering that elevates the brand and the segment it competes in. Given the relatively high prices the Telluride is commanding, dealers are probably busting out the champagne.
According to Cox Automotive, the Telluride is resonating with customers. As of August, the Kia spends about ten days on the lot before finding a buyer. Kia will probably sell about 60,000 this year, a figure that makes it competitive with a lot of the more established three rows despite not even being available for all of 2019. And in terms of monthly sales, it’s settled in at around 6,000, a figure that places it right in line with the Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas, both of which had about a year’s head start on the Korean.
What does the Telluride’s $40,000+ average transaction price tell us about its success? It might not be competing primarily on price. You can easily get any mainstream three row above that threshold. The Koreans earned a reputation for building vehicles that offered value through low sticker prices and robust standard equipment. The Telluride is different. It seems to be speaking to customers who want feature-based value in an upscale package. It’s selling with an average discount of less than one percent of MSRP, so its not like Kia has to throw some incentives on the hood to get people in the door either.
The company really seems to have hit the segment sweet spot. It’s got a competitive powertrain that offers decent acceleration and competent driving dynamics. Auto critics liked the Kia’s upscale appearance inside and out. And the Telluride offers passenger room and cargo capacity that’s at or near the top of the class. It does all that without the stratospheric price tag of ostensibly more premium competitors like the Buick Enclave and Cadillac XT6. Put simply, the Kia is dressed for success.
Kia dealers must be thrilled with the Telluride. It’s by far their most mainstream $40,000ish vehicle. They do offer a surprising amount of products at that price point, but they’re all pretty niche. If Kia can spread the Telluride’s “essence” to its future product offerings, they may become the brand to be reckoned with.
Kia’s relatively upscale design language isn’t a new phenomenon. Peter Schreyer, formerly employed by Audi, has been working at the Korean automaker for over a decade. But the Telluride really seems like the first Kia to take his work and transform it into a product that shifts the brand’s paradigm away from rock bottom prices. Luxury accoutrements at a mainstream price? That just might be Kia’s way forward.
A special thanks to Jim Klein, who provided the “real world” pictures of the Kia Telluride.