New SUV with a Colorado name is so hot dealers can't keep it in stock
Kia Motor’s newest sport utility vehicle has become the auto world’s equivalent of the Popeyes chicken sandwich — good luck trying to get your hands on one.
Dealers around the Front Range report Kia Tellurides are claimed long before they arrive on the lot, so much so that test drives are restricted in some places.
People are still buying them anyway.
“I’ve never had a car with this kind of demand,” said Phil Marzolf, principal owner of i25 Kia in Longmont.
i25 Kia is filling 25 to 30 orders a month, making it the top seller of the Telluride in Colorado. Buyers, who typically want something to transport the kids around in, are trading in everything from Subarbus to Suburbans.
“We are seeing a lot of customers we haven’t seen before,” he said.
John Medved, owner of the Medved Autoplex, estimates his Kia dealership in Wheat Ridge fields 100 calls a week on the Telluride, which rolled out in the spring.
“We have been selling them as fast as they come in. We have 30 orders backed up, people waiting for them,” Medved said. He finally put his foot down and told his sales team to keep at least one around for test drives.
To get around not having any models on the lot for interested buyers, Marzolf asked his wife to offer up her Telluride on the weekends, something his business partner also did.
She gets a detailed vehicle back, and the chances go up he will get a sale, Marzolf said. Out of 18 test rides the dealership offered last Saturday, five resulted in orders.
For anyone around when Kia first landed on U.S. shores in the early 1990s, the idea that it would smoke the competition in the highly competitive SUV category seems unimaginable.
Early sedan models had a reputation of being cheap and unreliable, even disposable, what some in the industry call “commodity” cars. That, along with the Asian financial crisis, contributed to Kia’s bankruptcy in 1997.
Hyundai Motors took a big stake in the company and helped turn things around. Both brands offer a 10-year powertrain warranty to address concerns about reliability, reassuring consumers while also providing a strong motivation to build cars to work right.
More recently, Medved said the company successfully raided a European design team, which has contributed to a sleeker look for its vehicles.
Both Kia and Hyundai pack in safety and driver assistance features as standard features, while rivals charge thousands of dollars more to add those.
For the past five years, Kia has been named the top brand in initial quality by J.D. Power. And Motor Trend named the 2020 Kia Telluride its top SUV.
The Telluride LX, the base model, starts at just under $33,000, about $5,000 below a comparable Ford Explorer. A comparable Honda Pilot costs about $2,740 more. The fully-loaded trim line is closer to $47,000, also below the competition.
Just how hot is the Telluride? Car comparison website iSeeCars.com, at the request of The Denver Post, looked at 50 competing models that have sold more than 10,000 vehicles in the past six months to find out how long they are taking to sell.
The SUV models take 45.2 days on average to achieve a sale, with the slowest seller, the Jeep Renegade, taking nearly 65 days.
The Kia Telluride is flying off the lot in 12.7 days. days. The next closest model is the Toyota RAV4 hybrid, which takes an average of 18 days.
The Ford Explorer takes 46.4 days to sell on average, the Dodge Durango 52.9 days, the Chevy Blazer 46.7 days and the Honda CR-V, a volume leader, 43.5 days.
“The Telluride is able to appeal to those who want a fully-loaded luxury vehicle as well as SUV shoppers on a budget,” said Julie Blackley, a researcher with iSeeCars.com. “Even the entry-level trim, which starts at $32,785, comes with a full suite of driver assistance features like forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and rear cross-traffic alert.”
iSeeCars.com also included some models from Subaru, a deeply revered brand in Colorado. The Telluride even leaves the Forester, the Crosstrek and the Outback in its rearview mirror.
David Undercoffler, editor-in-chief of Autolist.com, said the Telluride and its cousin the Hyundai Palisade benefit from being fresh faces in a field crowded with aging competitors.
“Having driven the Telluride, I’m not surprised at all that it’s been so popular. Essentially it does everything well, particularly for a family who wants a large crossover,” he said.
Rivals like the Nissan Pathfinder, Mazda CX-9, Chevy Traverse, and Dodge Durango are showing their age. And while the VW Atlas and the Honda Pilot have aged well, the Telluride offers a much more refined experience for a similar price tag, Undercoffler said.
Even the Ford Explorer, coming off a major refresh this year, can’t compete.
“Frankly it’s just not as well-executed as the Kia,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the Telluride can’t improve. Undercoffler notes the engine, despite having 291 horsepower, isn’t the most powerful. Kia would benefit by providing a more powerful engine option, as well as a hybrid version, Autolist.com suggests.
Medved, who has seen a lot of models come and go over the years, said any questions he had went away when his daughter’s Telluride was hit by a truck in a serious collision.
The whole front end of the vehicle was taken off, absorbing the impact as it was designed to do. But everyone inside the passenger compartment was protected.
“My grandchildren and daughter were safe. I could have lost her,” Medved said. Even though it was in short supply, he ordered her another one.
Tim Jackson, president and CEO of the Colorado Auto Dealer’s Association, said the popularity of the Kia Telluride reflects well on Colorado.
Automakers, whether by design or coincidence, have rolled out models over the years with a Colorado association. They include Sterling trucks, the Chrysler Aspen and the AMC Eagle, all discontinued, as well as the still available Chevrolet Colorado and the Dodge Durango.
Korean automakers appear to have developed an affinity for Colorado. Hyundai rolled out the Palisade this year and Kia chose to name its largest SUV, which is built in West Point, Ga., the Telluride.
Kia plans to boost Telluride production by 20% to accommodate demand, said Erzhoff. But he doesn’t expect to have a Telluride in stock to sell until April or May, and that assumes the frenzy eases.