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Kia's US Sales Decline 4th Month In A Row, Raising Questions About Why

Last week, Kia released US sales data for March and as much as Kia focused on the positive details in its press release, the hard truth is that its sales were down again, for the 4th month in a row. This begs the question: why are Kia’s sales declining?

First a little context. Kia has been proactively introducing new models (that are selling well, considering their limited availability so far) and refreshing their existing lineup, with new electric (EV) models every year since 2022, namely the EV6 and last year the EV9, as well as new gasoline only and hybrid models that include (or will include) the Carnival minivan, Niro crossover, Sorento and Sportage SUVs. As such, Kia is clearly aiming for sales growth in the US, especially in electrified market segments as their recent press release highlights. But something is dragging Kia’s sales volumes down the last four months in a row. While that may ultimately turn out to be more of a brief dip, if we sift through the numbers and nevermind the spit shine Kia inevitably applies in its press releases to highlight the good parts, we can get a pretty good sense of what is going on.

Starting in December, Kia’s US year over year sales began to slip though admittedly by only 147 units, so that almost doesn’t register, almost. January saw a decline of 892 units or a 2% decline, year over year. February sales slipped even more with 1,800 fewer, or 3% less units sold than the year before. March saw the largest decline in units sold so far at 1,822 fewer, or 3% again, compared to March 2023. Taken as a whole, these sound like small declines and may be attributed to various factors. But there is something in the numbers Kia hasn’t been calling out.

So, what is Kia not telling us? The good news, we might say, is that it doesn’t appear to be something particularly worrying. Kia discontinued a couple models in 2023, namely their lowest priced vehicle, the Rio subcompact, and their performance oriented Stinger sedan. The Rio was responsible for around 27,000 units sold each of the previous two years and the Stinger never sold more than about 17,000 units (16,806 in 2018, its best sales year), but we can understand that the elimination of those two models could account for a decline in Kia’s sales considering that Kia is not replacing them (yet) with new models of the same style. 

Yet can’t just pin everything on the elimination of these two models because Kia’s sales could have risen amongst their other models (especially those most similar in cost, size or style to those it eliminated). So, is that what happened? We have to dig into the numbers again and take a guess at what other Kia models shoppers may have chosen instead (whether that was actually due to people sticking with the Kia brand or just better sales in general we can’t know). Which Kia is closest to the Stinger? That would be the EV6, as it is the only other performance oriented car (or crossover), in its highest trims, that Kia sells in the US. For 2023 however, EV6 sales were down compared to its debut year of 2022, so it is unlikely that shoppers chose it instead of the discontinued Stinger and Kia likely lost some customers as a result of the discontinuation. But in 2024, EV6 sales have improved modestly over 2023 though still behind 2022’s year to date figures (in terms of units sold). There isn’t too much we can conclude from this other than the EV6 isn’t likely replacing many (or any) Stinger sales, so far. The Rio’s sales didn’t start falling until 2024 due perhaps to when in 2023 its production ended. The last few hundred remaining 2023 models of the Rio are still being sold now but sales so far are down 72% year to date compared to 2023. The closest Kia models to the Rio would be the Forte, Soul, or perhaps the Niro (though the price of the Niro is about $10,000 thousand more than the Rio so it is unlikely to be replacing many Rio sales). Kia Soul sales are down by more than 4,500 units (a drop of 27%) year over year, so the Soul isn’t saving Kia from lost Rio sales either. That leaves the Forte,whose sales are up a little over 3,000 units, year to date over 2023 and thus it is possible that a relatively small amount of Forte sales may be going to those who could have otherwise bought the Rio (which again is still being sold in dwindling numbers). This means that we can reasonably assert that Kia’s discontinued models have negatively impacted their overall sales these last 4 months.

Finally, we have to also look at Kia’s other models whose sales are down to fully explain what is going on. The K5, Niro and Soul all have double digit declines year over year for Q1 at -53%, -24% and -27% respectively, which in terms of units sold works out to more than 14,000 fewer sales for those 3 models, combined. Note that the very popular Telluride has also seen its sales slip by 6%, or more than 1,600 fewer sales. While 5 other Kia models have double digit sales increases, year over year, and the Seltos has also seen its sales go up by 6% so far this year, it simply isn’t enough to offset the loss of sales due to discontinuations and the declines in the other models’ sales. That doesn’t stop Kia from trying to put a positive spin on the situation though, noting in its press release that its EV sales are up 88% compared to Q1 2023 and that Q1 2024 was its second-highest first quarter sales ever. Also worth mentioning is that SUVs or “utility” vehicles now represent 79% of Kia’s total US sales, perhaps another indicator that what is ultimately behind Kia’s recent sales slump is due to shifting consumer preference.

The modest declines in Kia’s sales the last 4 months isn’t a positive thing, and it raises more questions as we look toward the next quarter and the rest of the year: will forthcoming Kia models and refreshes turn their sales declining trends around? If sales keep going down might it lead Kia to either discontinue other models or expedite the introduction of new or revision of other existing models (by adding more hybrid trims, additional plug-in models, etc.)? We’ll have to wait and see. 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 Torque News Kia or X for regular electric and hybrid news coverage.