For the past few weeks, my team and I have been talking a lot about Kia. The South Korean automaker has been more prominent on the Westside of Los Angeles — the land of Audi, BMW, and Prii — although we can't seem to determine if it's because there are truly more on the road or that the vehicles are simply more eye catching.
We've seen some interesting numbers on the brand, and more specifically, on the Soul. The vehicle catapulted Kia into mainstream dialogue with their well-known hip-hop hamster ads that debuted back in the summer of 2010. The series of ads caught the nation's attention with its catchy Black Sheep tune and overall fierceness. I personally used to stop my DVR to watch the ads. After all, how can you not love a track suit wearing hamster with a thug mug? The Hamster theme has been prolific for Kia, causing an onslaught of concept cars with a catchy suffix: Soul'ster, Track'ster. Is the Kia Soul more than just a catchy ad? Or is there substance behind the prolonged hype? I'm breaking down the numbers that may lead us to the answer.
Sure, the Optima and Forte Koup look really cool, but I have to say the soul of the Kia lineup is clearly (wait for it…wait for it…) the Soul. Kia has not been shy about its desire to grow US market share, and Soul is an integral player in future sales targets. The thing that's interesting about Soul's sales success is that it's not in a high volume segment where there are naturally a high number of customers out there. Instead, it's a box car, which in itself is a dying segment, and competes with subcompact cars. Still, the Soul managed to make up 24.2% of total Kia sales last month, which was an all-time February sales high for the brand. In other words, nearly one in four Kias sold in February was a Soul. To contrast, the Nissan Cube, another subcompact box car, made up less than 1% of all Nissan sales last month.
In February, Soul sold 10,876 units, outselling more recognizable nameplates like Ford Explorer, Nissan Sentra, Chrysler 200, and Honda Odyssey. They also don't load up on incentives to sell it — Soul spent 14% less than the subcompact car segment average. And to top it off, it flies off dealer lots with a days-to-turn at 19 days, far below the industry average is 53 days.
So, what makes this subcompact car so successful? You can point to the usual suspects, a lot of car for the price or the Hamsters appeal. But the most fascinating thing I've seen is that the Soul truly appeals to both men and women. In the full year 2011, it is the only vehicle that sold to an even number of both genders making it the most gender neutral vehicle on the road. I'm no psychologist, but appealing to both sexes can only help drive up a sales number. To compound this point, Edmunds.com transaction data shows that the two most popular colors for the Soul are silver and white. This matches perfectly with the last DuPont Automotive Color Popularity Report that showed silver and white tying for first place as the most popular auto exterior color. I don't know how you can get a more mainstream customer profile than this.
Since you're probably curious (I know I was) what else sells evenly to both genders? Here is a list of the top 10 vehicles:
Based on 2011 registrations. Vehicles had to sell > 500 units to be included in the analysis
If you have any doubts about Soul being the king of the box car segment, they are about to be squashed. I took a look at cross-shopping data which shows how a vehicle is stacking up to its competition. Bottom line: there a bunch more Cube and xB shoppers looking at Soul than the other way around. About 25% of Cube and xB shoppers are looking at Soul while significantly fewer Soul shoppers are following suit. Here is the breakdown:
Now, for a bit of fun! Well, perhaps I should rephrase that: now, for a bit of what we analysts consider fun. The numbers above are great, but I want to get at the age old question: where are the Souls from Seoul sold? Try saying that three times. Well, looking at 2011 sales, the results were somewhat surprising. The biggest markets were Florida and Texas. California, the reigning auto sales state king, came in at #3. You can add your own social commentary here. The most Souls as a percentage of total vehicles registered were in Oregon.
And what state sold the least amount of Souls? Montana. A mere 39 were registered in the state last year. I guess you can say Montana has almost no Soul.
What does the breakout look like?
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Jessica Caldwell is the Senior Director of Pricing & Industry Analysis for Edmunds.com. Follow @jessrcaldwell on Twitter.