Kia now ranks in the top ten of all automakers on the J. D. Power quality rating scale, ahead of Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering that when the first Kia cars arrived in North America twenty years ago, they were as reliable and well designed as the Yugo.
That’s just one of the recent awards for Kia, which also has been rated as the best value brand by KBB, and a top ten for residual value by ALG.
And having basketball king LeBron James as a brand ambassador, including doing TV commercials certainly doesn’t hurt the brand’s image. Kia’s Tim Chaney told me recently that James came to them, rather than the other way around, after he bought a the new luxury K900 and liked it so much he offered to get in the game for Kia.
The partnership fits neatly with Kia’s sports marketing program, which includes sponsorship of 14 NBA teams, plus World Cup Soccer and women’s LPGA golf tournaments.
“We’re just getting started. We have big plans,” Kia’s Chaney tells me. Those plans include beating last year’s record sales of 500,000 vehicles.
Optima and Sorento are assembled at Kia’s state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia; Soul is designed and engineered at the company’s studio in Irvine, California and produced in Korea.
Those first poorly made cars forced Kia to offer a 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty, double or triple what other, more dependable, manufacturers offered. That industry-leading warranty is not only still offered, but actually has been expanded over the years.
In addition to roadside assistance, the Kia warranty now includes trip interruption coverage, to reimburse you for meals or other expenses in case you are stranded more than 150 miles from home.
Everybody is making great cars these days, Chaney says, adding that “we have to distinguish ourselves by how we treat our customers.”
He says that since “not one technology will dominate in the future,” Kia is adding hybrid, electric and turbo models to the line-up.
The Soul EV debuted last year, and its availability is being expanded this year from California to markets in the Northeast. Kia added more than a dozen fast-chargers to the public infrastructure network in California to support the Soul EV launch, and is expected to make a similar contribution to the network in the Northeast.
Positive reviews for new Soul AWD turbo concept, introduced at a recent auto show, may help drive its production sooner, rather than later.
Kia also is bringing a diesel Sorento, already on the road in Europe and Asia, to North America, starting with the 2016 model. Ditto a first-ever turbo version. Between now and then, Chaney says the Sorento is getting a full refresh, with more cargo space and upgraded materials that will help the goal of moving Kia “upmarket”.
The K900 luxury sedan, introduced last year, is an obvious attempt to lure buyers away from other luxury imports, and give current Kia customers a prestige option at trade-in time. It seems to be working, with sales inching up monthly. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the 420hp V8 has a starting price of $54,500 and loaded with tech features as standard equipment that compare with other luxury models costing $20,000 more. Or even more.
Kia also is making a name for itself on the racing circuit, and with its commercials.
Race versions of the Optima, Forte and Rio have been on the Circuit of the Americas and doing well.
Also doing well is the Kia dancing hamster, the wildly popular character of TV commercials for the Soul, who even has his own YouTube channel.