We spotted this camouflaged Kia test vehicle near our offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- which is no surprise given that Hyundai and Kia have a joint technical center on the outskirts of the city. This model appears to be a new people mover, slightly smaller than a minivan but without the typical proportions of an SUV.
Our spy photographer informs us that the Kia was approximately the same size as a Mazda 5, which is a seven-passenger vehicle that is about two feet shorter than every other minivan sold in America. The Kia's fascia wears the wide, rounded mesh grille seen on other new models like the Rio and Optima. The rear doors are quite long, presumably to make for easier access, while the roofline curves only subtly toward the rear window.
We believe this is a new version of the Kia Carens people mover, which is sold in several foreign markets. As with the almost-identical prototype we spied in Europe, the new vehicle is probably based on the European-market Kia Cee'd. The Cee'd hatchback and wagon ride on a very similar platform to the Hyundai Elantra, and that platform sharing could make it easier for Kia to federalize a Cee'd-based people mover for the U.S. market.
Even if the company decided to do so, it's unclear whether Kia would find success selling a mini-minivan in America. A version of the Carens, called the Kia Rondo, was offered here from late 2006 to 2010. The Rondo was initially a runaway success, selling 26,020 copies in 2007 and 28,645 in 2008. But by 2009 sales had slipped to 14,206, and in 2010 the Kia Rondo recorded only 3588 sales. The model was eliminated for the 2011 model year. (The Rondo shouldn't be confused with Kia's larger minivan, the Sedona, which is still in production for the 2012 model year.)
If a Kia mini-minivan were to be sold here, it would have only two real competitors: the long-standing Mazda 5, and the upcoming 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid.