Len Hunt, the recently named executive vice president and COO of Kia Motors America candidly admitted that so far as potential customers go, half of them don't know Kia and the other half thinks of the automaker in the context of vehicles with bad quality, bad safety, and similar non-advantageous attributes. The first part can be and is being addressed by aggressive marketing. The other part, Hunt insisted, is being handled through developing and manufacturing better products. (A 10-year warranty doesn't hurt, either.)
Hunt, in familiarizing himself with the Korean company after coming to it from Volkswagen America, where he was executive vice president, said that he was exceedingly impressed with what he saw during a tour of facilities in Korea, particularly with the extensive and technology-rich Namyang R&D facility, which Kia shares with its parent company, Hyundai Motors.
Although Kia is part of the Hyundai organization, and although there is platform sharing, Hunt said there is specific differentiation occurring, such as the establishing separate design centers in Europe and the U.S. (although they've jointly opened fresh design and technology centers in the U.S. and Europe, so this is not about going it totally alone). The brand strategy seems to be one where Kia will pursue the youth market with somewhat more vigor than Hyundai, a company that is bringing products to market that are clearly more up-market, such as the Azera. What's more, Hunt said he's "keen to develop a halo car" for the brand, and cited two of his previous employer's products, the Audi TT and the VW R32, as the sorts of things that "crystallized" the message of the marques in a way that he's pursing. While unwilling to be specific about timing, the sense of things that Hunt conveyed is that it will be sooner rather than later.-GSV