Over the past several months, international chatter has increased over South Korea’s plans to launch the Kia Stinger, a handsome, powerful, reasonably priced fastback sedan with a wide variety of configurations. The car could have wide-ranging implications for the international car landscape, both in the US and in Europe, which has also been targeted by the Stinger.
Although the Stinger project has been underway since 2011, auto industry observers have often taken South Korean promises and threats with a grain of salt until the product actually arrives. Since most South Korean cars have exceeded the expectations of skeptics, many carmakers fear the worst – especially in the hotly contested American Midwest, the last region still predisposed to buying predominantly American nameplates.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded swiftly in a statement late Tuesday, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this launch by the South Koreans. However, at this point in time we see no need for economic action. We still reserve the right to levy tariffs on South Korean car imports, as well to add further subsidies for American automakers. Our goal remains the same as it has always been: To keep using as much oil as possible. Thus far, the Stinger appears to be aligned with this principle and we urge South Korea to limit any hybrid or electric variants – or face severe consequences.”
Car dealerships around the Midwest have reacted with a similar mix of fearfulness and belligerence.
Carl Mecklenburg, owner of Hometown Chevrolet/Buick/GMC/Isuzu/Porsche in suburban Cincinnati, says he’s definitely not in favor of increased competition, especially in the fast-growing Five-Door Quasi-Sedan/Coupe market. “Until recently, you had to buy a sedan or a coupe. It’s against the laws of nature to try to make one car do both jobs. I’ll gladly sell you a Porsche Panamera, but we’re talking $120 grand or more. This Stinger sounds like it would be really affordable, but I don’t trust Chinese [sic] cars, and my customers don’t, neither [sic].”
Car buyers, however, are more positive about the idea. A Lansing, Michigan man, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said “I worked at a GM plant for 30 years and it was a good living. But we [goofed] around a lot and the product reflected that work ethic. My cousin down in Georgia has been building Kias for the past five years and they’re just amazing. I’d try a Stinger.”
Further troubling are the widespread allegations that South Korea has not acted alone in its development of the Stinger. The firm reportedly used European offices staffed with German, French, and other nationalities to help design and develop the car over the past several years. Kia insists that its use of European talent was an economic expedient and not a sign that the company plans to launch future cars in European nations, although it has not ruled that out.
For the UK, no longer an EU member, the issue appears far less dire. Coming at the tail end of her recent Asian diplomatic trip, Prime Minister Theresa May offered a brief comment early Wednesday, stating “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from South Korea bringing great news. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep with dreams of the Stinger GT. Hopefully they can figure out how to put the steering wheel on the wrong side.”