On Christmas Day, Kia will air the first television ad for the K900 — its bid to enter the luxury car market in the U.S.
At first glance, it's hard to think than anyone would associate Kia — which uses dancing hamsters to advertise the $15,000 Soul — with luxury driving.
But when you take a closer look, it's clear the Korean automaker has a plan that may well work.
The K900 debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, and we were impressed. The rear-wheel drive sedan looks great inside and out.
It will be powered by a V6 engine good for 311 horsepower, or a V8 that will produce an impressive 420.
But the challenge isn't to build a luxury car, it's to sell it. The lucrative segment is crowded with established competition (Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi), newcomers (Lexus, Infiniti), and brands on the mend (Cadillac, Lincoln).
So how can Kia convince Americans to spend a lot of money on a brand long associated with affordability?
On paper, Kia has checked all the luxury car boxes. It will throw in three years of complimentary maintenance. Plenty of features will come standard, including "high-grade" leather, a 12-way adjustable driver's seat, and heated and cooled seats. Buy the V8 version, and you get a full-length panoramic roof and reclining rear seats.
And it's approaching the market the right way, argues Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. It has kept K900 development costs down by using the platform already shared by the Genesis and Equus. Even modest sales should let Kia break even.
Brauer said he's heard "rumblings" of a starting price around $55,000, a significant jump over the $35,000 MSRP for Kia's top model in the U.S., the Cadenza. But, he added, a good deal isn't what most premium buyers are looking for. In fact, it can undercut the premium image Kia is trying to build.
Making it into the luxury market is a "journey of 1,000 steps," Brauer said — and it will take 20 or 30 years, not 2 or 3. A few decades ago, he noted, BMW didn't have a luxury reputation, but it "concertedly changed" its image and products, over time.
If Kia wants to do the same, it has to start sometime.
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