Kia’s Remarkable Evolution: Value, Hip, Elegant

December 11, 2010/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS FREEWHEELING BY HOLLY REICH

Kia originally made its mark for being a value brand. But that wasn’t enough to compete in the market. The company was aware that in order to make an impact on the industry, Kia would need to refine its image with upscale features, distinctive design and technology that would rival other auto manufacturers.
Over the last few years, Kia has done just that. And at a time when other car companies have cut back on advertising, Kia has moved full speed ahead with innovative and hip ad campaigns, a deep dive into social marketing and a partnering with the National Basketball Association. That, along with keeping costs low, has moved Kia into the cool category.
Starting with the Kia Soul, the company started to revamp its image. Kia started to target the youthful Gen Y buyer and move away from the average Kia buyer, age 52.
At the time of the Soul introduction, Tom Loveless, vice president of sales for Kia Motors said, “This is the tip of a very big iceberg. It’s the direction Kia is going.” His prediction was on point.
The Soul, a five-passenger urban vehicle, was probably one of Kia’s first cars that didn’t take itself too seriously.

(The name Soul is a play on Seoul, Korea, Kia’s hometown). Furthermore, this fun-looking small vehicle is customizable with over 50 different body and interior accessories, including a fashionable red-lined glove box, speakers that pulse in time with your music, black “eyeliner” surrounding the headlights and a body kit with a rear spoiler. The starting price is at a $13,300 for the 2010 model.
The next car that Kia launched, the Forte, a compact sedan, was positioned for the “passionate pragmatist who is thoughtful, optimistic… a leader who doesn’t follow trends,” according to Loveless. The Forte placed its prowess on being big on safety and fuel efficiency with class leading horsepower and a mega-sized trunk. The base price starts at $13,695 for the 2010 model.
Kia recently released the all-new 2011 Sportage, a five-passenger crossover utility vehicle, and positioned it towards the “young single guy.” It has a raked windshield, available 18-inch alloy wheels, chilled box compartment, chrome body trim, plus a turbocharged SX model.
The edgy design that’s wider, longer and lower than its predecessor adds power, better mileage and all-wheel-drive. The Sportage is also one of the first Kia models to offer Microsoft’s UVO, a hands-free car communication and entertainment system that allows drivers and passengers to answer and place phone calls, receive and send text messages, access music from media sources and create custom music experiences. It starts at a competitive $18,295.
And now Kia, the innovative company, the cool company, the tech-savvy company, is making more exciting moves. The Optima, a midsize sedan revamped for 2011, is going elegant. At the launch this fall, Tom Kearns, design director at Kia, compared some of the Optima’s styling to a “perfectly tailored fine Italian suit.” He pointed out attributes such as the side accents (like the tie-clips that adorn the flanks of Jaguars), the alloy wheels that come in four designs and the “pure, simple, shape of the car.”
The Optima is geared towards the tech-savvy Gen X audience, ages 35 to 49 years, who are interested in authenticity and a highly designed vehicle. The Optima’s target group will appreciate details like the powerful Infinity eight-speaker sound system, mood lighting, a cooling glove box, an eco-switch, and a fuel mileage of 24/35 mpg.
For higher design, owners can opt for wood trim, a sleek black interior with carbon inserts, metal foot pedals and lighted metal door scuff plates. And the prerequisite creature comforts include a panoramic roof, heated and cooled front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, paddle shifters and a turbocharged engine. A hybrid Optima also become available in 2011. Pricing begins at $18,995. — Holly Reich, Motor Matters

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010

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