While there’s no official word yet from Kia, its designers are rooting for the Soul’ster micro truck to move from concept to reality.
It's been nearly a year since Kia dropped two doors and chopped the roof off the back of its hipster hatchback, the Soul, and turned it into the Soul'ster. The concept debuted at the Detroit Auto Show with the mission to haul reactions and feedback from showgoers back to Kia execs to determine if the Korean auto manufacturer should produce the four-cylinder runabout for the U.S. and other markets.
"Kia's internal design community is firmly behind building the Soul'ster," Tom Kearns, chief designer of Kia Motors America, told PickupTrucks.com at the L.A. Auto Show. "We'd like to see it happen. There's no official decision to build it but it's still possible."
If produced, the Soul'ster could be just the spark that compact pickup trucks need to reverse the segment's long and steady decline. About 800,000 small trucks were sold in 2002 but only 393,000 units were sold last year – a staggering 51% drop in six years.
Part of the sales falloff has to do with the current economy, but much of it has to do with price and a lack of innovation in the segment. Buyers can drive off dealer lots in full-size pickups with efficient V-8 engines and greater capability for about the same price as a well-equipped midsize or compact truck. The starting price of a Ford Ranger is $17,440 versus $21,380 for a full-size Ford F-150.
In comparison to current pickup truck prices, the Kia Soul starts at only $13,995. What if the Soul'ster started at that price or little less? Would that be enough to get small truck buyers interested? It's something a current pickup truck manufacturer is seriously studying, according to a senior executive (not from Kia) who spoke with us at the L.A. Auto Show.
"Compact pickup trucks used to be hot in the 1980s and 1990s," said the executive, who asked to remain anonymous. "College kids and retirees used to drive them before prices got too high. Now, the trucks are too expensive. We're making it a priority to try to reinvent the segment. We think it has to be priced in the $10,000-to-$15,000 range."
Kia chose the L.A. Auto Show to launch the latest generation of its Sorento crossover utility vehicle . The Sorento is being built at Kia's new state-of-the-art plant in Georgia but there's space to expand the plant to build other vehicles there, too. Could the Soul'ster be one of them?