What Happened to the Telluride Off-Road Edition?

The Kia Telluride was previewed at the 2018 Specialty Equipment Manufacturer Association, or SEMA, show alongside several tough-looking, off-road-ready examples. Since then, the Telluride has been a big hit. In some cases, dealerships have been unable to keep them in stock. So, Kia has dabbled a lit bit with the Telluride’s original formula and introduced the Nightfall Edition to add a little to the mix. But, that is just an appearance package. Where is the Off-Road Telluride that was teased at SEMA?

Four off-road ready modified Kia Telluride models are parked side by side.
A lineup of Kia Telluride models modified for off-road use | Kia

Gauging public interest in an off-road Telluride

From the outset of the SEMA show, it was obvious that Kia wanted to gauge the public’s interest in the Telluride, but also the public’s attraction to off-road capable Tellurides. Why was it obvious? It was obvious because Kia showed several modified Tellurides that looked ready to conquer the off-road wilderness. Big tires, fender flares, cargo racks, all of it were on those examples.

A few months later after the SEMA preview, in January 2019, at the Detroit Auto Show, the Telluride was officially launched by Kia. The press release said, “the Telluride is all about big skies, desert roads, mountain passes, shady forests, smooth highways, and long coastal drives.” It sounds just peachy.

A green and black Kia Telluride that has been modified for off-road use.
Kia Telluride Cadet Leader Concept shown at SEMA 2018 | Kia

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The Telluride Nightfall Edition

Earlier this month, Kia announced that the Telluride would become available with a Nightfall Edition. The Nightfall Edition blacks out the wheels and trim. Basically, it gives the SUV that “murdered out” look that people are so fond of. But, it is just an appearance package. Now, the Telluride certainly looks like it could play the part of a great mysterious SUV. But, overall, all we have seen is a pavement queen. Where is the off-road edition to go through those forests and climb those mountains? Where are the off-road treatments that hearken back to the SEMA show?

The New Bronco, the Toyota 4Runner, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited are not afraid of the outdoors. Aftermarket companies are standing in line to create great products to improve the offroad capabilities of those models. Those manufacturers have embraced their product being taken off-road. Even Chevrolet Suburbans are targets for aftermarket lift kits, fender flares, winches, and big bumpers.

A red and black Kia Telluride that has been modified for off-road use, has big tires, fender flares, and a brush guard bumper.
Kia Telluride Horizon Roamer Concept shown at SEMA 2018 | Kia

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Did Kia lose its nerve?

So, what happened to those SEMA Tellurides? They once inspired people with off-road visions. Did Kia lose the nerve to create an off-road-ready package like Toyota’s TRD line, or Ford’s Sasquatch package, or Jeep’s Rubicon trim? The Nightfall Edition is certainly not that.

Come on, Kia, where are you? If Suburbans can be off-road-ified, so can Tellurides. Both offer great comfort inside, but both also have the capability to go beyond the pavement. The only difference is that the Suburban is actually doing it equipped with a Z71 package at the trailhead, while the Kia is more than likely in a space at the parking lot.

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Focus groups are not everything

I recognize that I am being a little hard on Kia here. The manufacturer will do what they can make a business case for. If there is not a strong business case, then they will let the off-road dreams die along with the SEMA Tellurides that have not been seen again. It is not personal. It is business. But, how can a business know if there is a good or bad business case unless experimentation is involved? The automotive industry has already learned that focus groups do not tell the whole story (ask Ford about the Edsel).

I plead with you, Kia, do not let a focus group decide the fate of an off-roader. Build a handful of dedicated Telluride off-roaders. Take them to off-road events. See what the reaction is from real off-road people out on the trails. People already love the vehicle. The sales show it. Why not throw an off-road brute package into the mix and find out what people really say then?