In the veritable maelstrom that is automotive retailing, Kia’s Soul has represented an almost singular success. Born of a concept first shown in 2008, its two-box production variant arrived in showrooms with most of the concept’s styling cues intact. And with its oh-so-unique mix of distinctive styling, easy ergonomics and affordability, it was a MINI (or so) for the masses, filling a market niche vacated (at approximately the same time as the Kia’s showroom intro) by Scion’s suddenly-larger xB.
If the sheetmetal and interior appointments were appealing, the Soul’s underpinnings were utterly soulless. As we noted at the time of the Soul’s 2012 refresh, the original Kia offering suffered from both a crude powertrain and indistinct (to put it mildly) handling. In short, the Soul was higher on style than substance, but that didn’t keep Middle America (and their hamsters) from buying them by the hundreds of thousands. And that brings us to Kia’s retail environment, where the business practices of at least two dealers in Dallas-Fort Worth (D/FW) entail very questionable tactics in moving – after a fashion – the metal.
Our first informal visit was to Southwest Kia on – appropriately – the southwest side of Dallas. There, entry-level Souls – with factory Monroneys (the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price) of around $15K – were saddled with dealer addendums of $1,795 for ‘market adjustment’ and $795 for ‘protection’! Typically, market adjustment addendums are added – by suspect retailers – for vehicles in both high demand and short supply. A Shelby Mustang might be an example, or – back in the day – an all-new Ferrari. Kia’s Soul has certainly been in high demand, but rarely has it been in short supply. And adding roughly 15% to the cost of a car for little more than the space it occupies seems well beyond egregious. The $800 protection package (which might cost a retailer $200) is egregious; another $1,800 is stupefying!
While hoping Southwest Kia’s pricing posture didn’t represent a pattern, We next visited Patterson Kia in Arlington, Texas, which is home of the Dallas Cowboys. And the presence of the Cowboys is relevant because Patterson Kia offers the NFL package. No, that’s not a reference to the National Football League; instead, it refers to Nitrogen for Life. The nitrogen is in, we’ll guess, the Kia tires, but you’d hope $800 might provide you with your own transportable tank, fitness gear and a deep-tissue massage.
In both instances, the addendums are not-quite-transparent attempts to do one of two things. The dealer management will either gouge the unsuspecting customer (and, despite the Internet, there remain a lot of them) for additional profit, or the cushion added to the factory window sticker gives the dealer more flexibility with either an upside-down trade or marginal credit. And in the wake of the Great Recession there are a lot of people upside down in their trade, or with the real or perceived need to trade despite marginal credit.
An all-new Soul – introduced at this year’s New York Auto Show – is on the horizon, retaining all of the charm of the original while promising a significant uptick in ride, handling and refinement. And with the intro of an all-new Soul, and that of the all-new Forte already on Kia showrooms, it’s time for Kia and its dealers to rethink their retail philosophy. Market adjustments may have their place (somewhere), but we believe it’s time for these retailers to implemen an attitude adjustment. We’ll suggest the wisdom of Stanley Marcus and – later – dealer Carl Sewell: Customers for Life. And you don’t get them with ‘market adjustments’. You get them with preferred care and ethical treatment.