Kia needs to focus on building its brand image through mass-market cars before it takes on niche sporty models. At least, that's what Kia overseas marketing chief Lee Soon-nam told Automotive News, suggesting that a production version of the exciting Kia GT4 Stinger concept might not be headed to production any time soon.
"The volume will be smaller and then we can't enhance the brand image fully," Lee told AN of a sports car. "From a marketing point, a new car launch should be helpful to enhancing the brand image… We would like to build our brand image to some level. Then we can maximize the effects of the new car launch."
The Kia GT4 Stinger concept that debuted at the 2014 Detroit auto show previewed a sporty model akin to the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S and Mazda MX-5 Miata. It had a 315-hp turbocharged engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive. At the time of the car's launch, all indications were that Kia was invested in launching a sporty model in the same vein as the GT4 concept. However, Lee Soon-nam's comments appear to imply the opposite -- that Kia will continue to build its momentum with mainstream cars rather than niche models.
At the Detroit show introduction of the GT4 concept, a Kia official told us, "I don't think there would be an obstacle [to building it]… It's a matter of making a business case." The chief designer of Kia's American design center, Thomas Kearns, also told us the car could eventually go into production. "When we designed it we always have the intention [of production] in the hope that if management gives something the green light, we can get to production without huge [changes]," he said. "We try to have a little restraint and not do something that’s too pie in the sky so that if it is greenlighted we can get there, maybe 95 percent [of what the concept is]."
Moreover, Kia design chief Peter Schreyer has publicly said he wants to see the brand sell a model like the GT4. "We always wanted to make a sports car. Something like this would have potential as a product."
Still, Lee Soon-nam told AN he thinks a sports car would sell in such small numbers that Kia couldn't create a solid business case for building it. He also said that launching a niche car might harm the brand's reputation, just as Kia is working to improve its image with customers. "If a Chinese brand introduced a roadster, would it affect customer perception? I don't think so," he said. "Even though we are doing very well in the global market, many customers do not know Kia yet." In other words, Kia needs people to recognize the company as a quality automaker before it puts time and money into low-volume sports cars.