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Kia US February Sales Are Best Ever But Hybrids Are Winning Out Over EVs

Kia had phenomenal growth last month in the US market, again, if you take their sales information at face value (which we should absolutely do, initially). February 2023 marks seven straight months of sales records for Kia, and that is unquestionably an accomplishment. However, as usual, there are some interesting details in the numbers that speak to the challenges Kia still faces and will continue to face in its upward sales trajectory in the US market.

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According to Kia, they achieved a 24% overall sales increase year over year (YOY) in the US market and five different Kia models (Carnival, Forte, Niro, Sportage and Telluride) had their best ever February sales. Their total sales in the US for February were 60,859 (compared to 49,182 last year) and electrified vehicle sales were up a respectable 32% over the same period last year. All of that sounds great, but let’s drill into the numbers to see if perhaps there are some things Kia isn’t telling us or that Kia should be focused on if they want to rise to the top.

First, let’s look at the total sales for February; there’s no denying sales were up YOY. If we look back a couple years to February 2020 (the last pre-pandemic sales month) we will see that on the eve of the pandemic hitting everyone everywhere, Kia had 52,177 US sales (it’s second best US February sales figure). Clearly, February 2023 was the best February sales results Kia has ever seen in the US, by a margin of 8,682 vehicles. Is that a lot? You tell me, but my opinion is: it is a somewhat modest gain. Kia should feel reassured by the figure, but it is still small enough to potentially be a blip or anomaly.

Perhaps it matters which vehicles were behind that growth? It couldn’t hurt and the answer in brief is: the Sportage is behind the bump more than any other vehicle that Kia sells (though solid growth for the Carnival, Forte, Sorento, and Telluride models certainly helped too). While Sportage sales soared (276%), and the other models I mentioned made strong gains, Kia also saw significant sales decline for their EV6 (-39%), K5 (-22%), and Stinger (-43%, along with a smaller slip in Seltos sales of -6%). The EV6 sales decline is of particular interest because February 2022 was its first month on sale in the US so it is somewhat surprising to see sales down by that big of a margin, one year on (given its specific popularity and generally larger scale manufacturing). But a month is a month and it does not make a year, so we’ll have to wait and see. But the question the EV6 figure raises for me: is Kia already shifting its delivery focus to other markets for its EVs due to the lack of US federal incentives which make their vehicles more price competitive (for buyers who are eligible for the tax benefit at least)?

Next, electrified vehicle sales were up 32% YOY. Since EV6 sales were down significantly, and Niro sales were only up 12% (which works out to an additional 370 units of all variants, combined), much of this 32% YOY gain has to come from Kia’s other electrified vehicles, namely the Sportage hybrid (HEV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) as well as the Sorento HEV and PHEV. In fact, if we just look at the February 2023 EV6 and Niro sales (5,133 units, all of which are electrified models), about 460 fewer electrified Kia’s were sold this year, compared to last. So that means a minimum of several hundred to a couple thousand more Sportage and Sorento hybrids (of both types) sold in February this year compared to last. The best I can conservatively estimate is that over 2,000 additional units of those two electrified SUVs were sold last month versus February 2022. Thus, with EV6 sales down, Niro sales up modestly (and about 60% of those being the HEV version we can assume) we can reasonably estimate that Kia’s EV sales are actually down YOY (by my estimate they are down around 700 units or close to 25%), however their HEV and PHEV sales are likely up dramatically, perhaps 40-50% higher, YOY. Put another way, Kia’s hybrid sales are about 2x the volume of their EV sales, YOY, and that disparity is accelerating, so far. Even with the forthcoming EV9 going on sale in the US later this year, I predict Kia will more rapidly grow its hybrid vehicles sales (mainly HEVs) than its EV sales and that by this time next year we might see the difference increase to 3x, or more.

What do you think? Is it surprising that Kia’s EV sales growth seems to be slowing significantly, already? Do you think Kia’s hybrid sales will grow even faster than it has recently? Please leave your questions and comments below.

Images courtesy of Kia.

Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.

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