The world of luxury automobiles is changing. There are more players in the segment than ever before, including makers that are better known for being affordable rather than luxurious. Kia is looking to be part of the “in” crowd with its first-ever luxury marque, the K900.
The South Korean automaker is counting on open-minded buyers looking for luxury at a great price to help the company gain a foothold in the segment against the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Michael Sprague, executive vice president sales and marketing, said that the rollout of the K900 is also part of the South Korean-brand’s long-term strategy, which includes concentrating on boosting the quality of its products, strengthening the overall reputation of the Kia brand, elevating the consumer’s experience while in Kia dealerships and identifying opportunities for new segments for growth.
The K900 certainly fits in with the last part of the strategy by delivering a product that challenges the top luxury brands and opens up new territory for the Kia brand, while creating a halo around the rest of Korean automaker’s vehicles, Sprague said.
“We see luxury brands moving down, why can’t we move up into their space,” asked Sprague, who said the entire definition of luxury has undergone a change since the recession. “Shoppers are still looking for value,” said Sprague. But they also want strong design and the very latest technology. This opens the door for brands such as Kia, which offers both.
The K900, which was originally sketched out in Kia’s California design center, comes to market with a strong, sleek design and is loaded with the latest technology, such as a Lexicon audio system, 9.2-inch touch screen and a full package of driver-assistance features. The car sits on a rear-wheel-drive platform with a 119-inch wheelbase and comes with a 420-horsepower V8 and an eight-speed transmission.
While the K900 boasts a slew of equipment similar to that of an S-Class Mercedes or 7-Series BMW, it does separate itself in one measure: price. At $65,000, a fully equipped K900 is about $20,000 less than its German rivals.
Sprague admitted during the press preview in Southern California that Kia faces a challenge in getting affluent consumers interested in the K900. One of the keys will be to get them to take the car for test drive. But the luxury segment is growing and the “second-tier” of luxury brands, such as Volvo, Acura, Infiniti, Lincoln and even Cadillac, don’t have that strong a grip on the emotions of potential customers, he said.
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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchioness has reached the same conclusion, which is why he is planning to build up the Alfa-Romeo and Maserati brands.
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For the rollout of the K900, Kia plans to concentrate in 20 key markets on the East and West Coasts, Texas, the Southeast and Upper Midwest, Sprague added. Only about 220 of Kia’s approximately 795 dealers will actually sell the K900.
Sprague declined to discuss sales volume. But he said the K900 will be featured in what he describes as a multi-platform advertising campaign, which debuted on NBA telecasts on Christmas Day and was elevated by a creative ad that appeared on the Super Bowl.
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It was one of the most highly rated spots to appear on the Super Bowl telecast and has helped boost visits to the Kia web site by huge percentages, according to third-party services such as Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book.
“It succeeded in driving consideration for our entire line,” Sprague said.