Sorento, Optima Sustain Kia's Steady Growth

2012 Kia Optima superbowl2012

As bigger brother Hyundai takes center stage with the media and the public, Kia's blossoming is just as impressive, if not as acclaimed. Kia — which, in Korean, means "to arise or come up out of Asia" — is a dark horse in the auto industry. The carmaker was one of the fastest-growing brands in 2011, and its market share has grown for 17 straight years. "Our goal is to make 2012 our 18th consecutive year," says Tom Loveless, chief of sales at Kia.

The driving forces behind the company's growth are the Kia Sorento, Soul and Optima, according to Loveless. The pace has only picked up in recent years since the Korean automaker built its first U.S plant in 2009.

The Georgia assembly plant builds the latest generation of the Sorento, currently the carmaker's best-seller. Late last year, a $100 million expansion allowed the plant to build 360,000 vehicles a year. That will allow Kia to build 50% of the cars it sells in the United States domestically by the end of 2012, according to Michael Sprague, chief of marketing at Kia.

Kia's estimates pale in comparison to competitors such as Toyota and Honda, which domestically source about 70% and 85% of their vehicles, respectively. But it's far better than Kia's figures from 2011, which closed in on a mere 25%, according to Automotive News.

Sorento construction
The models that will help Kia the most in reaching its new import/U.S.-made balance are the Optima and Sorento. The rest of Kia's models, such as the Soul and Sportage, are built in South Korea. The Optima recently went into production at the U.S. car plant, alongside the Sorento. The move coincides with the Optima becoming Kia's best-selling vehicle for the past two months, and almost all of those models were built in America.

As more shoppers become aware of Kia, the more the brand is cross-shopped with other popular brands like Ford, Toyota and Honda, says Sprague. It wasn't long ago when Hyundai was Kia's largest cross-shopped brand; though independently operated and marketed, Kia is a subsidiary of Hyundai. Today, Hyundai remains among the top five considered brands against Kia, and "more and more Honda and Toyota cross-shops" are accruing, says Sprague.

The NBA and Blake Griffin sponsorships have really helped Kia, says Sprague, and they will continue going forward. The carmaker will also sponsor some motorsports events, including B-spec racing with the Kia Rio. There was also the well-received Super Bowl commercial for the Optima earlier this month.

As for the Soul and its singing hamsters, expect the campaign to continue for now, Sprague says.

Comments 

They need to go find Jeremy Lin to dunk over their newest model. That Blake Griffin dunk was pretty sweet though... I don't know why that qualifies it as a good vehicle...

cody

i wonder if the people cross shopping hyundai and kia realize they are pretty much the same cars...kia needs to at least get some different engines to better separate them from hyundai...then again the auto press doesn't feel compelled to point out the platform sharing between hyundai/kia the way they do with the domestics (i know..inviting import loving flamers to chime in)

Brandon

Well, the styling is different.

For example, I'd LOVE a new Rio sedan far more than an Accen sedan.

I'll just probably get a used model when I graduate college next year.

Lance

@cody
I think the reason American carmakers got the bad rap originally is because they would produce like 4 cars using the same almost everything. Chevy would start if off and then Pontiac would add some plastic cladding, Olds would add some chrome, and then Buick would add some leather and portholes. I think it was the sheer number of them over the years and they were pretty shoddy during a lot of those years too. the Cimmaron really added fuel to that fire also.

I only mention GM because they seemed to do it the most as they were the biggest and the fact that I owned many of the cars I mention. Ford and Chrysler were just as guilty. American carmakers were putting out different brands with some of the same body panels and in many cases the same car with just different headlights and tailights and a little different interiors.

I've owned four Chevys', four Pontiacs, one Oldsmobile and two Buicks. Also had several Fords and one Chrysler.

Hyundai and Kia use distinctly different design for both exterior and interior, standard and optional equipment are somewhat different and the ride is also a little different. I also don't think any of the body panels are the same.


Troy S.

Great post Lance.

cody

@lance,

i agree that the styling is different, inside and out. a lot of times the only shared panel is the roof, although sometimes the doors as well (last optima/sonata and accent/rio) that wasn't always the case (the accent and rio shared interiors), but they do a good job of visually separating them.

in the 90's, the big 3 were bad. not so much now (except for ford/lincoln).

the relationship between the hyundai and kia models are almost never mentioned, even though the chassis, engines, transmissions, and sometimes suspensions are identical.

i challenge you to find an article here on the veraro that doesn't mention the cruze. hell, sometimes they make up a connect, as has been the case with the equinox and srx.

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