automotive

Kia Eyes Luxury Market with KH Sedan

Posted by Dale Buss on February 21, 2012 03:05 PM

Kia has been showing off a head-turning concept car called the GT around the auto-show circuit lately. And now it looks as if the Korean brand's first rear-wheel-drive sedan will be introduced this summer — and very much resemble the GT.

Code-named KH, the production version of the car and the GT concept are based on the same mechanical platform that upholds Equus, the top-of-the-line nameplate for sibling brand Hyundai. This means that Kia is following very closely in the footsteps of Hyundai in plans to move upscale after establishing itself in the mainstream market.

"It would definitely be a halo vehicle, limited number" of units, Michael Sprague, CMO for Kia in North America, told Automotive News. "You don't want to build any more than you have to. You want it to be a unique vehicle for the brand."

Kia has paved the way for this move relatively quickly. It has been spiriting the GT around the international auto-show circuit, beginning with Frankfurt last fall and including Los Angeles and Chicago. Producing the similar KH by this summer, initially for the Korean market, would be a quick move for Kia.

There's no word yet on a timetable for getting the car into the U.S. market, but Sprague and his colleagues are convinced that Americans would entertain a Kia that purports to compete around the $60,000 level with stalwarts such as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi 6.

That attitude, of course, is similar to the approach used by Hyundai a few years ago in bringing the pricey Genesis and even more upscale Equus to the United States. It also provides an interesting glimpse into the thinking at the two brands' corporate parent. Some U.S. observers have assumed that the company eventually would split its positioning in the American market into a premium Hyundai brand and a mainstream Kia brand.

But Hyundai and Kia executives in America long have insisted such a bifurcation wasn't in the plans of the Korean conglomerate. And introducing a Kia-badged luxury vehicle certainly would be evidence of such a strategy.

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