Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kia Rental Cars

Without getting into too much detail, Amber's car has been in the shop for the last couple of weeks, during which time she's been driving a rental: a Kia Optima.

I've been thinking about the Kia brand a lot lately. (Well, not really, but more so than normal.) Its U.S. market share is growing. They advertise a lot. And, out of the four times either Amber or me has gotten a rental car since we've known each other, we've ended up with a Kia twice. I wouldn't have noticed that the Optima is the official car of the NBA, for instance, if not for the fact that we've been renting one.

And that got me wondering. Kia's reputation is, well, cheap. And Hyundai is way ahead of them in the "relatively inexpensive Korean alternative" market; if you're going to get a cheap Korean car, you're going to get a Hyundai, not a Kia. They're trying to change that and become a major player in the U.S. automotive market, and while I don't really know if the cars have gotten a whole lot better over the years, they're doing a good job marketing them, at least.

As part of this marketing campaign, could Kia possibly be oversaturating the rental car market with their products, in an effort to expose more people to them, and hopefully change their reputation for the better? "See, our cars aren't so bad after all, are they? In fact, they're actually kind of nice! And how about that gas mileage!*"

(* - According to the in-car telemetry, the Optima gets about 35 mpg highway, which is pretty good for a car its size. I do appreciate Kia's emphasis on fuel efficiency. But can we really trust the numbers the car is giving us? Wouldn't it be convenient if the numbers reported by the car's MPG gauge were slightly higher than the actual MPG?)

Where do rental car companies get their cars, anyway? From dealers, directly from the car companies (in bulk, perhaps), or some other way? That's something I know nothing about. Is Kia selling their cars to Hertz, Enterprise, and the like in bulk and at a loss as part of their marketing campaign? If that's the case, I think that's brilliant marketing. But I have no idea. There just seem to be a lot of Kias in rental car parking lots, and I don't think it's purely coincidence.

So, I've driven the Optima once. Here's the thing I've noticed with the Optima, and also with the Chevy Cobalt rental we drove a few years back: they're overloaded with gizmos. It takes a long time to cycle through all of the dashboard statistics and such. Now, being a stats guy, I like having all of this at my disposal, but that's actually not what is most important to me in a car. Reliability and durability are my top priorities. I want to be able to drive this thing 200,000 miles with as little work done to it during that time as possible. And that's the main reason I don't plan on buying a Kia anytime soon. Their reliability, I believe, is still well behind Honda, Toyota, etc. And I think the reason cars like the Optima are overloaded with gizmos is because they're trying to make up for a lack of quality in other areas.

But that doesn't matter when you're renting one, of course, because rental cars are usually fairly young when you get them. The Optima had about 14,200 miles on it when we received it. Why, by our standards, she's still a baby! (My Civic is now over 81,000.) The Chevy Cobalt had about 21,900 (US-50 trip, September 2009); the Kia Spectra (Nebraska trip, March 2008) had about 15,700. So as a rental car, a Kia is perfectly fine.

(Completeness note: the fourth rental car either of us have had over the years was a Nissan Altima that Amber rented in 2007. I never drove the Altima myself.)

(Statistical note: if we get Amber's car back this week, then we'll be returning the Optima before its odometer reaches 15,000, and thus, the Optima will not earn a place in the Rental Cars tab of my Car Mileage Log. But the original estimate was actually yesterday, and they've already missed that, so...I'm not ruling it out.)

But the thing is, there's nothing interesting about driving a Kia. Whenever we go to a rental car place and they give us a key with the name "KIA" inscribed it, it's a disappointment. And if they are in fact oversaturating rental car parking lots with their product as part of a marketing campaign, then the likelihood of leaving the rental car lot with a Kia is pretty high. Small sample space, yes, but two Kias out of four may indicate a trend.

In August, I'll be renting a car for a company trip, and the Kia Optima is a member of the class of cars I'll be renting from. (The Spectra and Cobalt were "Compact"s; the Optima is an "Intermediate".) The odds that I'll end up with another Optima? They have to be pretty high, right?


Anonymous said...

I don't know Chris, I have had my Kia Soul for just over 2 years now and it has been a great car - with a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty and about 28 mpg in the city, you can't go wrong. I have had no trouble at all with the Soul which is A LOT more than I can say about the Jeep Liberty that I had previously!

Rhodent said...

I'd be surprised if they're juicing the number on the in-car telemetry. It's too easy to check the numbers with if you use the trip odometer. It might be a little inaccurate, but it should be within reason.

For what it's worth, I routinely track the mileage on my Honda Civic Hybrid, and it generally underestimates the mileage. On average it reports mileage 3% worse than the actual mileage, although it has ranged from about 7% worse to about 2% better.

Edith Duncan said...

I'm sorry you haven't enjoyed driving a Kia. What do you think of the new Kia Soul? I like it--it looks a little bit like the Mini Cooper, but more angular/tough. It looks like Kia is doing good things this year. Not only do they have this new design, but they are sponsoring 80 Korean students for "Happy Move Camp." Overall, I still enjoyed your tips about car rentals--thanks!

Edith |

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