Kia's European sales have risen nearly 30 percent since Michael Cole took over as the brand's chief operating officer in late 2012. Last year the automaker increased its sales in the region by 13 percent to 435,316 vehicles, led by strong demand for its Sportage compact SUV. Kia's hot streak will get a further boost from the new Stonic small SUV. Despite all those positives, Cole is wary of falling sales of diesels in Europe, where he says the "demonization" of the powertrain has affected consumer confidence. Cole explained how Kia is adjusting to the diesel decline in an interview with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Andrea Malan.
Diesels are losing market share in Europe faster than expected. What is your forecast?
We are seeing a prolonged period of reduction as diesels have lost share in each of the last two years. There has been a "demonization" of diesel that has influenced consumer confidence. The industry is doing its job explaining that you can have clean diesel and it can continue to be part of the solution for clean air in the future. I don't see 100 percent electrification or hybrid gasoline in the foreseeable future. Diesel will have a part to play.
How is Kia adjusting its powertrain plans to this new environment?
We can switch between different powertrains within a reasonable time frame. For instance, we are looking to expand our hybrid and plug-in hybrid offer by 2020. However, the real challenge is to get to 95g/km of CO2 by 2020. Since diesel is a big part of that effort, if it continues to decline, we have to compensate for that.
What's your plan if diesel sales collapse in Europe?
In that case, we would need more full-electric vehicles. We have the Soul on the market, and we have further plans, which I can't announce yet, to have more BEVs [battery-electric vehicles] within the range. In the future, there will definitely be more electric, more plug-in hybrids and you've got mild hybrid opportunities, especially with the diesel engine. We will also continue to work on the engine downsizing.
The new Kia Stonic comes with a diesel. Does that still make sense?
It does. In markets such as Italy and Portugal, diesel is not an issue. Overall though, I think diesel’s share of the Stonic's sales will be less than 10 percent. The volume model will be the 1.0-liter gasoline turbo. We have no plans to launch an electric version. There's a shift in the SUV market from diesel to small direct-injection gasoline engines.