Kia confirmed to U.S dealers that it will launch a new full-sized rear-wheel-drive flagship sedan K900 in the United States early next year, accelerating its drive into higher tiers of the luxury car market.
Pricing was not discussed, but the K900 is expected to carry a base price of between $50,000 and $70,000. Don Hobden, chairman of Kia’s national dealer council, said Kia officials at the meeting called the K900 “a 7-series value for a 5-series price.” Hobden said the car will arrive in early 2014, though a specific launch date was not announced. Kia officials declined to comment.
Super Bowl ad blitz
The company also told dealers it will advertise the K900 during the 2014 Super Bowl, according to people who attended the meeting. Kia has used the National Football League’s championship game and its more than 100 million U.S. viewers as a platform to pitch new products, as it did with the re-engineered Sorento and redesigned Forte earlier this year and the Optima mid-sized sedan in 2012 and 2011.
Kia initially planned to launch the K900 sedan — which shares the same platform as the Hyundai Equus — in the second half of 2014, according to industry sources. Kia executives told dealers they expect to sell about 5,000 units of the K900 next year. That’s a relatively low-volume vehicle for Kia.
However it’s far more than the 2,000 to 3,000 units that Hyundai forecast for the Equus luxury sedan in 2011, its first full year of U.S. sales. The sales goals and launch timing — Kia’s current flagship, the Cadenza sedan, just went on sale in April — signals the seriousness of Kia’s ambitions to become a formidable competitor to mainstream and luxury makes alike.
Kia’s U.S. sales have dipped 2 percent this year to 378,380 units through August, in part because of inventory shortages and weaker light-truck volumes.
No more jokes
Ken Phillips, president of Car Pros Kia with dealerships in Tacoma, Wash., and greater Los Angeles, also attended the meeting and said the K900 is a statement of Kia’s capabilities as an automaker. “When people see it, Kia will quit being the butt of the joke because this is an amazing machine,” Phillips said.
He said the K900’s engine lineup will include V-6 and V-8 engines, with the V-8 producing 420 hp. The K900’s V-6 will likely be the 290 hp, 3.8-liter mill used in the version sold in South Korea. With 420 hp, the V-8 should be the 5.0-liter V-8 from Hyundai-Kia’s Tau engine family. The eight-speed automatic transmission used in overseas models is also expected for the K900.
Other features of the model sold overseas and expected to be on the K900 include adaptive LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, a 17-speaker premium audio system and a head-up display that displays cruising speed, turn-by-turn directions and other information.
Kia will sell the K900, at least initially, through a limited number of dealerships in key markets including cities along the West Coast, in New England and Florida, dealers said.
Dealers will undergo customer-service training for the car and buy special showroom display items in order to sell the K900. “There was a distinct message that their expectation is that it won’t go to all Kia stores,” Hobden said. “It will be strategic.”
Christopher Basha, who oversees digital marketing and advertising at the Carriage Automotive Group’s Kia, Nissan and Mitsubishi dealerships in Gainesville, Ga., and who also attended the meeting, described the training as a “cultural immersion” class intended to elevate the customer service culture at Kia dealerships selling the K900.
The strategy is similar to how Hyundai launched the Equus in 2011. Hyundai dealers had to invest in customer service training and a “showroom within a showroom” in order to sell the Equus.
Phillips said he plans to sign up all three of his Car Pros Kia dealerships to sell the K900, and he said he appreciates Kia’s strategy of limiting the number of dealers that will sell the K900 because it ensures dealers will have enough inventory of the vehicle.
“It’s going to be quite an amazing car,” Phillips said. “That’s a car that when you get the right person in the showroom and they get behind the wheel, they’re going to want to take it home.”