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Kia and The 2011 Sorento

How Kia is transforming its lineup and position through design and manufacturing.

There are a couple of points that Tom Loveless, vp of Sales, Kia Motors America, makes that are germane to how Kia—certainly one of the smaller brands in the U.S. market but growing (3% of the total market through November '09 sales, according to Autodata [motorintelligence.com]) as some more well-known brands are in decline—is going to further establish itself in the market:1. "Value is the New Cool," he says, citing the overall economic decline that is causing not just a reduction in vehicle sales overall, but a shift in mindset among consumers, who may not be as established-brand-oriented as they once were.

There are a couple of points that Tom Loveless, vp of Sales, Kia Motors America, makes that are germane to how Kia—certainly one of the smaller brands in the U.S. market but growing (3% of the total market through November '09 sales, according to Autodata [motorintelligence.com]) as some more well-known brands are in decline—is going to further establish itself in the market:

1. "Value is the New Cool," he says, citing the overall economic decline that is causing not just a reduction in vehicle sales overall, but a shift in mindset among consumers, who may not be as established-brand-oriented as they once were. Kia represents a lot of content for cash.

2. "A design-led transformation is changing the brand image." Let's admit it: cars from Korean companies have had a longer history in the U.S. with innocuous or derivative designs than they've had remarkable ones. Value may be the New Cool but people aren't likely to go for that at the expense of rolling in an unappealing car. So in the case of Kia they've upped their design quite notably. Hiring Peter Schreyer as design director a few years back ('06), a man who had had a long, heralded career at Audi, is clearly an indication of this level of seriousness, and the influence of him on product is being realized in the three most-recent vehicles from Kia, the Soul, the Forte and the Sorento.

How serious is Kia manage-ment about the prospects for the Sorento? While it could be argued that it is a matter of timing, in point of fact, not speculation, the first product to roll off the line at Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG) in the city of West Point, was a 2011 Sorento.

KMMG is a $1-billion investment that includes not only assembly and paint, but a stamping facility that features a 5,400-ton press used to produce 17 Sorento body panels, and a transmission shop where the six-speed transmission for the Sorento is manufactured. (The 3.5-liter engines are shipped from the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama facility; transmissions are shipped to the Hyundai plant.)

KMMG has a full output capacity of 300,000 vehicles and will employ on the order of 2,500 people. Plans are to add at least one other vehicle to the line in the not-too-distant future.

But it is important to note that when management was making a decision of what to put where, the Sorento was installed in the brand-new plant.

While pricing isn't available as of this writing, the base price is said to be in the vicinity of $20,000, which is rather impressive for a vehicle that comes standard with a 2.4-liter four, six-speed manual (yes, a manual in a category that has all but forgotten them), ABS, ESC, electronic brake distribution, hill-start assist control, and downhill brake control. It has an overall length of 183.9 in., a 106.3-in wheelbase, and is 72.4-in. wide and 67.3-in. high (without roof rack). As it gets scaled up with options (nav, Infinity auto, 18-in. alloy wheels, leather, backup camera, panoramic sunroof), and as one surveys the attention to detail in terms of materials and fit and finish, particularly on the interior of the CUV, it begins to seem as though "Value is the New Cool" could be thought of as "Why Would You Need Much More Than This?"