I’m really not a hypermiling type of guy – I usually drive a twin-turbocharged V6. When the opportunity to drive from Miami Beach to Key West came up, I admit the allure of Key West was more than the chance to get the maximum fuel economy out of a Kia Optima Hybrid and new Kia Rio. Having grown up in Florida, the northern part, I had never been to Key West – got as far as the Everglades a couple of times.
Kia Optima Hybrid and Kia Rio
The cars did not disappoint and Kia threw in the chance to attend GRAND-AM Continental Tire/Kia200 Sports Car Challenge race at the Homestead-Miami Raceway. So how could I refuse?
Optima – Elegant Mid-Size Style With Maximum Fuel Economy The Optima is one of my favorite mid-size cars. Its styling is great and interior is very easy to live with. From my perspective, the Optima style is very sophisticated and European. Coming from the “junior” Korean manufacturer, the Optima is much better looking than the swoopy Hyundai Sonata that has turned so many heads since its introduction in early 2010. My guess is that the Optima style has more staying power than the Sonata which may age pretty quickly.
Adding the Hybrid model to the Optima lineup gives Kia a price-efficient, fuel-efficient combatant in the growing fuel economy battleground among mid-size cars.
All New Rio – Bottom-Feeder No More This was the first chance I have had to drive the all new Rio. As the bottom entry in Kia’s lineup, the Rio has evolved from a cheap, cheap tin can to a very worthy small car. Of course, it is not cheap, cheap any more, but it is reasonably priced. The model we drove was priced a notch above $20,000 but had everything on it including a navigation system, sun roof and leather seats. In previous generations, it would have been unheard of to have this level of equipment available in the lowest priced car from a mainstream brand. With a front seat package rivaling a mid-size car in size, folks are no longer “sentenced” to drive a small car.
New Entry in Dealers April 2006
Honda has just announced pricing for their newest entry, the Fit. This five-door hatchback has been offered in international markets for a few years, and joins the U.S. lineup after an introduction at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 2006.
According to AutoPacific, the Fit competes in the Economy Car segment, populated with several other all new or fresh entries. Fit competition includes the Toyota Yaris (all-new for 2007MY), the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent (both all-new for 2006MY), the Chevrolet Aveo (gets a major change for 2007MY), and the Scion xA. While these are all basic transportation entries, the segment itself is poised for some growth over the next few years.
Though a $12,000 base price point was expected, Honda launches the Fit with a base price of $13,850. The base price gets you the same engine as at any other price point, a 109HP 1.5L DOHC 16v I4, six standard air bags (driver and front passenger, seat-mounted side airbags, and side curtain airbags), and an anti-lock braking system. The standard car gets a five-speed manual transmission, though another $800 gets you a four-speed automatic. The uplevel model is the Sport ($15,170), and it adds a rear roof spoiler, fog lights, keyless remote entry with security, cruise control, upgraded stereo, aluminum alloy wheels, and an aero body kit. Opting for the automatic in the Sport for the same $800 also gets you steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
It will be interesting to see how pricing the Fit at the high end of the segment affects their 60,000-unit annual sales target. Fit slots below the Civic in Honda’s lineup, but in pricing it only $500 below the cheapest Civic, the clear space is not as distinct as it should be. It helps that the Fit is offered in a different bodystyle than Civic and therefore there is no directly comparable model. Civic is offered only in two-door coupe and four-door sedan forms and Fit provides a hatchback, but the Civic offers more standard equipment and a 140HP engine.
Chinese Manufacturer Looking to Supply U.S. Buyers with Basic Transportation
Geely is the second Chinese automaker to announce plans, however basic, to crack the North American auto market. Last year, Malcolm Bricklin of Visionary Vehicles announced aggressive, and seemingly unrealistic, plans for bringing vehicles from Chinese maker Chery to the States by January 2007 and selling 250,000 units in the first year or so. While Visionary Vehicles cannot be written off just yet, the company will not meet its initial launch targets set out at the 2005 Chicago auto show. By Bricklin’s own admission, Chery-made cars won’t begin arriving on American shores until late 2007 at the earliest.
By comparison, Geely is hoping to sell a modest 25,000 units their first year. Ambitious goals and lofty talk aside, when either company arrives and which is first remains to be seen.
According to John Harmer, COO of Geely USA, however, being first is not the objective. “We don’t care who’s first. We care that when we do [arrive], we are perceived as worthy,” he told a group of industry analysts and journalists at a meeting of the Society of Automotive Analysts in March 2006. Harmer shed a bit more light on Geely’s intentions at the meeting, where he was one of a three-member panel discussing China’s automotive future, and VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were there to hear it firsthand.
New Entry Car Joins Honda’s Lineup
If you’re in the market for an economy car, this might be one of the better model years to buy. Not only does the Honda Fit arrive in dealers in April 2006, Toyota’s Yaris and Chevrolet’s updated Aveo will arrive shortly afterward. And don’t forget the Nissan Versa coming later in the year. Honda chose the North American International Auto Show to unveil their new Fit while Toyota launched the Yaris at the Los Angeles Auto Show , with Vehicle Voice and AutoPacific correspondents on hand. Elsewhere in the segment, Kia’s Rio and Hyundai’s Accent were all-new for the 2006MY. The oldest product in the segment is actually the Scion xA, and that model launched nationally for the 2004MY.
What are the keys to this segment? As much interior room as can be carved out of such a small footprint, some type of sporty-look model to offer the ability to not look as though you’re driving the least expensive car in the lineup, and the ability for buyers to customize or accessorize their car. Toyota is writing the book on this with Scion, and Honda is learning a few tricks.
Final pricing has not been determined for the Honda Fit, but a $12,000 price point is reasonable. Though pricing for either Fit or the new Toyota Yaris has not been announced, the Fit offers more standard features and is likely to carry a slightly higher base price as a result. Honda does have concerns about the new entry cannibalizing some Civic sales, but Honda is not creating a sub-brand for this segment, as Toyota has done for its Scion products. The Fit is built in Japan and imported, though if the small car found strong enough demand, Honda could add U.S. production.