BURBANK, Calif. -- For Kia, the 2018 Kia Stinger is as much a marketing exercise as it is a product launch; a vehicle meant to close one chapter while opening a new one for the brand.
"You know for years we built so-so quality products that were really nondescript. They were low-priced vehicles with good fuel economy and that's what we were known for," admits Michael Sprague, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Kia Motors America. "There was nothing special about them. People couldn't establish that emotional connection with the brand."
Sprague expects that to change with the Stinger, despite being a challenging time for luxury sedans. Sales in the Stinger's segment declined 9.6 percent through October as buyers turn to crossovers and SUVs over sedans. This makes Kia's decision to field a premium midsize five-door hatchback at the price of a premium compact sedan look smart, even if Kia still has a stigma to overcome.
"I think this will dispel any negativity about the brand that people still write about. There are a lot of people who still remember the old Kia, pre-2008," said Sprague.
The car in question, the 2018 Kia Stinger, is modeled on midsized premium European GTs, but offered at a premium compact price. Better yet, the car comes with European credentials. Its design was overseen by Kia's design chief Peter Schreyer, formerly of Audi, at Kia's Frankfurt design studios. Meanwhile its handling was tweaked by Kia's newest hire, Albert Biermann, former vice president of BMW's M Performance Division.
"We have the whole package now; the design, the technology, the safety, the quality, the value, and the performance," said Sprague.
For a brand known for its economical front-drive sedans, a true European GT should do much to enhance Kia's image. And unlike the launch of the 2014 Kia K900, a car that cost twice that of any Kia model offered at the time, the Stinger makes more sense within its line-up.
"When we launched K900, it came out at $59,900, which was nowhere close to any of our vehicles," said Orth Hedrick, vice president, product planning, Kia Motors America. "By difference, the Stinger is starting at just under $32,000, which is the starting price for our turbocharged Optima. So, it was well within range of a lot of the buyers that we have today, and I think it's more of a natural jump."
Hedrick feels the Stinger's compelling value proposition will draw a lot of interest, citing the Audi A5, with which the Stinger competes, as an example. "It's all-wheel drive. It's got a four-cylinder turbo, and it's $52,000. That's our max price with our V6 and 365 horsepower. The A5 is a beautiful car, but you pay for it."
Nevertheless, Kia officials know that the Stinger is as much a marketing exercise to change buyers' perceptions, as it is a product launch. "That's why we're doing things unconventionally, doing things that we've never done before," said Sprague, who revealed plans to set up Stinger boutiques in eight malls nationwide. Kia wants to reach consumers in ways beyond dealership visits. "We're trying to connect with people in unconventional ways so that we break down those barriers that they may have put up."
And Sprague thinks they will succeed.
"I think the Stinger is really going to provide an inflection point for the brand."
About The Writer
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. Readers may send him email at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.
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