New subcompact sedan Soluto unveiled: Ayala presents revitalized Kia PHL

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Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

IT’S official: Ayala Corporation takes control of Kia Philippines. The rejuvenated brand was re-launched on Jan. 20 through a major event attended by Ayala officials, dealer-partners and other guests.

Formally appointed on Dec. 5 last year as official distributor and service provider of the South Korea-based car maker is the conglomerate’s wholly owned AC Industrial Technology Holdings, Inc. (AC Industrials), which in turn controls Integrated Micro-Electronics, Inc. (IMI), and AC Automotive — led by chairman Arthur R. Tan and president Emmanuel A. Aligada. Kia now takes its place as the sixth mobility marque (following Honda, Isuzu, Volkswagen, KTM, and Maxus) in the already considerable portfolio of Ayala.

At a press conference last December with members of the motoring media, Mr. Aligada had revealed that Kia Philippines is set to release three new models in 2019. The first of the nameplates is the Soluto. The subcompact sedan is touted as offering “an array of value-for-money features, highlighted by [a] 1.4-liter dual-CVVT gasoline engine that produces 95ps of power and 132Nm of torque, combined with a spacious interior as well as standard seven-inch touch screen audio with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, [and a] six-speaker system.”

Slotting in at a price point just above the Kia Picanto, the new Soluto (priced between P625,000 and P735,000) joins other more familiar vehicles in the revitalized Kia Philippines: the new Sportage, Grand Carnival, Rio and Sorento.

Mr. Tan in a speech suggested that Kia Philippines will benefit from the Ayala conglomerate’s many diversified interests and expertise to be part of “disruption and changes anchored on several megatrends: mobility, smart energy and connectivity,” adding, “This is where AC Industrials comes in. [Through] this group of companies we have under the Ayala Group we are able to not only see the future but be part of it.”

He spoke of growth expected to happen in the mobility space, and disclosed a study that shows that “by 2050, the Philippines will be one of the top 20 economies in the world. You need to have a foothold in the country if you want to develop at the same pace.” In Kia, AC Industrials “found the right partner who shares in the vision — a global partner who’s already anchored in multiple parts of the world.”

The executive envisions being “part of this mobility future” and declared that the firm is ready to bring technology for the next generation of vehicles. “Autonomy, energy and capacity… we are already engaged in core technologies of the platform.”

Meanwhile, noting that Kia “nearly doubled its brand value from $4 billion in 2012 to close to $7 billion by the end of last year,” Ayala Corporation president and chief operations officer Fernando Zobel de Ayala described the South Korean carmaker as a “solid global brand with a wide range of products that have been strongly patronized by Filipinos. Over the past two decades, Kia has built a foothold in our country.” He also pointed to “multiple quality and design recognitions,” including a runner-up finish last year in overall vehicle quality in the US.

Mr. Aligada said that the next new release for Kia will happen at the yearly Manila International Auto Show in April.

In an interview with BusinessWorld, the executive said the third vehicle is expected to be released in the third quarter of 2019, and admitted; “There may be a fourth — depending on the reception. We’ll see.”

Before being seconded to Kia Philippines, Mr. Aligada worked as an executive of the Ayala-steered Globe Telecom for 14 years, and a further six years with automotive operations. He had said at the last year’s news conference that there are key “elements” of a quick win which would most easily bring the brand (which had been flagging locally) into a state of health. Along with having a “significant, relevant product line,” the enterprise needs to remove barriers of entry into ownership.

Mr. Tan described the re-launching as a “new beginning for a brand that needs no introduction.”