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Kia’s 2-Line Strategy Provides Sales Boost

Kia America is on a sales streak that’s lasted over a year.

The Irvine-based automaker, a unit of Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group, hit 14 consecutive months of increasing year-over-year sales in September.

Kia reported September sales of 67,264 vehicles, up 9% from a year ago. August, with 72,147 units sold, had been the fourth straight month of topping the 70,000 figure.

Execs point to the company’s focus on electric vehicles and gas-powered offerings for the ongoing strength in sales.

Much of the sales increases are boosted by Kia’s well-received line of battery-electric vehicles, headlined by the EV6 crossover vehicle, which will soon be joined by the EV9 SUV.

Execs say constant upgrades to the company’s line of gas-powered vehicles is also proving a draw for those not yet ready to make the electric switch.

Models showing the most growth included the Niro EV, which leapt 1,341% in sales and the Carnival multipurpose vehicle, up 187% year-over-year. These two vehicles are also among the eight Kia models that posted year-over-year sales in the first half of the year.

“It wasn’t just a blip,” Chief Operating Officer Steven Center told the Business Journal.

“It’s a new kind of high watermark, and I attribute much of that to the product,” he added.

“We don’t have a product that is struggling right now.”

Next Steps

Kia, Orange County’s third-largest automaker by local employee count, plans to sustain its growth by further developing its line of EVs and simultaneously continuing to “refresh and reinvigorate” its internal combustion line of vehicles. Updates include increasing technology and expanding power offerings within the existing lines.

“It’s not just a couple new colors for the year,” Center said.

The automaker is also looking at creating new revenue streams to offer to its dealer network such as a new rental program and new cargo vehicles. Additional offerings will allow Kia dealers to help further company growth.

“I’d say we’re growing horizontally and vertically,” Center said.

The first nine months of 2023 marked Kia’s highest-ever sales total, with 604,674 vehicles sold.

Renaissance

Center has worked in the automotive industry for the past 30 years and has been following Kia since “its birth,” he said.

“Kia was thought of as providing inexpensive, entry cars,” Center said. “But we’re up there with the luxury brands now, in terms of perception.”

Center joined Kia America as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2022.

He previously worked for Honda in various roles since 1993.

He described the current growth period for Kia as a renaissance for the brand and noted that the vehicle quality and styling had become “more appealing” to consumers.

He pointed to Kia’s Telluride model, which launched in 2018 as a 2019 model­ and sold over 75,000 units in 2020. It brought in a new type of customer, according to Center. A total of 83,981 Tellurides were sold year-to-date through September, third behind Kia’s Forte and Sportage models.

Kia’s first all-electric model, the EV6, also attracted “better educated customers with better household incomes” when it arrived in 2021.

“You can tell by the credit applications and also by what they’re trading in,” Center said.
The EV6 starts at $42,600.

Center said that Kia sold almost the same number of vehicles in the first seven months of 2023 as the company did in all of 2018. He believes the upcoming EV9 SUV, which starts at $54,900, will push the automaker’s relevance even further.

“The current momentum was established way before I came here,” Center said. “It’s my job not to screw it up.”

Commit

In its latest step of commitment to electrification, Kia is investing billions of dollars with parent company Hyundai Motor Group, which also oversees Fountain Valley’s Hyundai USA, to redevelop its manufacturing facility in Georgia to include battery assembly.

About five models are currently built at the Savannah plant, including the Telluride, and Kia plans to add the EV9 to the lineup.

Kia’s other goal is to help electric vehicles become more mainstream through improving the charging infrastructure.

Kia and six other global automakers joined forces in August to form a company that will install at least 30,000 EV chargers along highways and in high traffic areas around the country.

“Customers can fill their cars with the same convenience as if it were gasoline, so to speak,” Center said.

“We’re still in the early adopter phase.”

Kia is also developing a line of “purpose-build vehicles,” or cargo vans, to be used by small businesses such as movers, electricians, plumbers and others. These will be electric as well and sold at Kia dealerships to provide more variety for dealers and consumers alike, according to Center.

More debuts, both for gas-powered vehicles and EVs, are planned for the next calendar year, according to Center. Kia Corp., headquartered in South Korea, plans to end up with 15 global EV models by 2027.

“The growth you’ve seen will be sustained and will continue forward for a few years,” Center said.

“We’re not at a plateau point just because we’re building out a second line.”

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