LOS ANGELES -- After pushing its market share above 2 percent for the first time last year, Kia expects to build on that momentum in 2009 with four new vehicles.
"We have lots of new product this year," says Tom Loveless, sales chief at Kia Motors America. "We will get our fair share of the market and then gain some."
The Korean brand raised its share to 2.1 percent, from 1.9 percent in 2007. In an overall market that fell 18.0 percent last year, Kia's sales declined only 10.5 percent. Kia, Honda and Subaru were the only major brands to increase car sales last year.
This spring, Kia will launch the small, boxy Soul to battle the Scion xB, Honda Fit and Nissan Cube.
The brand's best-selling model, the Spectra sedan, will be redesigned this summer. The Spectra coupe, Kia's first coupe, comes to market in the fall. In late fall, the redesigned Sorento SUV goes into production.
"With the product lineup, I'm confident we'll have another year of share growth," Loveless says.
"The Soul is the critical piece. It will change the DNA of Kia. The Soul will bring new customers to the brand, and we have consumer money on several vehicles and significant dealer cash to help them close the deal."
According to Edmunds.com, Kia spent an average of $2,337 per vehicle on incentives last year, up from $1,887 in 2007 and the highest amount ever for the brand. That's more than the $1,931 spent by sister division Hyundai. "Kia's product mix, price point and somewhat more generous incentives enabled them to gain their highest market share ever in the U.S.," said Edmunds analyst Jesse Toprak.
Early last year, dealers were uneasy after Byung Mo Ahn replaced the popular Len Hunt as CEO of the U.S. unit. Now dealers say the brand is committed to staying aggressive in the marketplace.
"Ahn can get things done," says Ken Phillips, a Kia dealer in Tacoma, Wash., and a member of the dealer council. "It's no longer just waiting and hoping."
Phillips says Kia recently increased the money it provides dealers to fuel up new cars to $50, from $15. He says that $5,000 cash rebates have been placed on 2008 models, and that the brand this month is rolling out a co-op program to increase dealer advertising money.
Says Russ Darrow, owner of five Kia stores in Wisconsin: "I'm really high on Kia--the warranty, the quality, the rebates. We're poised for a big sales increase."
(Source: Automotive News)