Kia Philippines President and ACMobility Head of Automotive Retail and Distribution Antonio ‘Toti’ Zara III — PHOTO BY KAP MACEDA AGUILA

Interview by Kap Maceda Aguila

FOLLOWING the public launch of the Kia Sonet, ACMobility Head of Automotive Retail and Distribution Antonio “Toti” Zara III spoke to “Velocity” about the expectations for the new crossover that supplants the Stonic. He expressed bullishness about how the market will receive the Sonet — particularly since it is in a price point that, the executive maintained, has been used to “settling” for hatchbacks and sedans. Here are excerpts from our exclusive interview.

VELOCITY: The Sonet will be stepping into very big shoes previously worn by the Stonic. As you also said during your presentation, this will now be Kia’s volume driver. You said this price point has been populated by hatchbacks and sedans. Historically, Filipinos have shown an affection for crossovers and SUVs. What else makes the Sonet such a compelling player, if you will, in this segment where Chinese brands are staking their claim?

TOTI ZARA: When we first launched the Stonic, it became the volume driver for Kia. More than 40% of our sales was moving through the Stonic. So, we felt it was very critical to have a model even stronger than the Stonic in this sweet spot of the market in terms of pricing. As I was sharing, up to 25% cars sold in the Philippines are in this price range, P750,000 to P1 million. Most of the cars in this price segment are sedans and hatchbacks, but we believe that’s not driven by market preference. The market really prefers an SUV, a crossover, but it’s the affordability that forces buyers into this body style. And I think that’s what the Sonet provides. We wanted to bring in a stronger product in this price range. The Sonet is higher. Its overall height is higher; the ground clearance is higher. It’s a legit crossover the market is looking for in terms of features. We’ve enhanced the features, but we tried to keep pricing the same. So, it now gives you better value for your money.

We understand there are many competitors, but intelligent variable transmission, I think, is unprecedented in the segment. We have a four-cylinder engine, unlike the others, that provides one of the best output performance in this segment. And there are many other first-class features that you won’t find in the segment — ADAS (advanced driver assistance system), for example. You have a sunroof, fully digital instrument clusters — you don’t see that in the segment. There are many other features like remote start, wireless charging, and others that you would typically find in a more expensive car. We are putting these in this sweet spot and we’re challenging all the other brands: Let’s put in these features in this price range, not in the higher price range.

So it’s about ticking more boxes? This value has typically been known in the newer Chinese players, right? They offer basically more upmarket features for the same price. So, now you’re saying that if buyers look at the Sonet, it gives you more than what you pay for?

Correct. Exactly. And now, who we’re really targeting are the millennials, Gen Zs to a certain extent, and people who are practical and progressive, and are looking for good value, but still they want innovation inside, of course.