Kia Pushes for GT4 Stinger Sports Car, More Rear-Wheel-Drive

DETROIT—Kia is “pushing hard” to make the GT4 Stinger sports car concept come to production, as the Korean brand looks to broaden its rear-wheel-drive strategy and expand into new segments, a top U.S. executive said Thursday.

“We're not making any announcements, but we'd love to see this car on the road in Detroit in the near future,” said Michael Sprague, Kia's executive vice president of sales and marketing.

Speaking at an Automotive Press Association luncheon, Sprague said the Stinger has received “tremendous response” after its reveal in January at the Detroit auto show. It has since hit the international show circuit and has made appearances in Geneva and Russia. The 2+2 coupe has a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder pushing out 315 hp and runs on a race car chassis. The Stinger would serve as a halo car for Kia, which has never had a true sports car.

“We see an opportunity in the market for it,” Sprague said.

The Stinger has reportedly been the subject of internal debate at Kia. Design chief Peter Schreyer has been a vocal supporter, though other executives in South Korea are believed to be less enthusiastic that the brand can support a sports car.

A production version of the Stinger would join the Kia K900 sedan, which launched in March and is Kia's first foray into the rear-wheel-drive segment, as premium cars in the brand’s showrooms. The K900 is a large, V-8-powered luxury car that pushes out 420 hp and starts at $60,400. A commonly added VIP package that adds a 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster, reclining rear seats, and advanced smart cruise control, pushes the sticker to $66,400. Sprague said the K900 will serve as a test case for consumers' reaction to rear-wheel-drive cars from Kia and could influence if the brand expands in that area. There was never any doubt the K900 would be rear-wheel-drive, he said, as it will compete against full-sized luxury cars from BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus.

“This segment—absolutely,” must be RWD, Sprague said. “There are certain things that you have to have.”

The K900 name also allows Kia to potentially add other vehicles using a similar nomenclature. Though it's rear-wheel-drive, Sprague characterized the K900 as a premium luxury car, rather than as a sports sedan.

“The consumers we're going after are looking for something different,” he said.

The launch of the K900 comes as Kia eyes expansion while celebrating its 20th anniversary of sales in the United States. It launched 16 new or refreshed vehicles from 2009-2013. Volume increased 13 percent in April and is up 7 percent this year to 186,682 units. About 40 percent of its cars sold in the U.S. market are manufactured at its factory in West Point, Georgia, a spokesman said.

Later this year, it will launch an electric-powered variant of the Kia Soul on the West Coast before expanding its sales across the country in 2015. It will be available mainly through leasing, and it will debut Kia's next generation of UVO in-car connectivity. Kia will also launch the Sedona minivan this year, which has been redesigned with more-premium styling and a range of new electronics.

The product blitz comes as Kia works to change the perception of it as a cut-rate brand with poor quality. Sprague is quick to point to strengthening residual values and improved performances in J.D. Power and Associates rankings.

“This is really important because there are still a lot of people who still have the perception of the old Kia,” he said.

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