Races Forward With New Models, Events

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DETROIT (AdAge.Com) -- It was sweet revenge for Len Hunt. Rather than trade in his exec VP post at Volkswagen of America last fall to become global sales and marketing chief at VW-owned Bentley Motors, he opted instead to join
Kia, which spent $158 million in U.S. measured media in the first nine months of 2005, is shifting its budget to increase spending for online ads.
Kia Motors America. He was there only a few months when Kia’s sales performance left his former employer in the dust.

According to Automotive News, Kia led VW by 51,656 units in the U.S. last year, selling a total of 275,851 vehicles. And Mr. Hunt, now exec VP-chief operating officer, said the brand has no intention of slowing down beginning with the launch of the Sedona minivan this month. After 12 consecutive years of U.S. sales growth, “in the next four years we will really put the pedal to the medal” with one or two all-new models per year “for the foreseeable future,” he said.

New models
Following Sedona and a short-wheel-base version of the minivan due in September comes its redone Optima midsize sedan in April. Midcycle changes are coming this year for Kia’s Amanti large sedan, Spectra small sedan and Sorento sport utility. The barrage is so strong that by the close of 2006, Kia’s oldest model will be the Sportage small SUV -- which went on sale about a year ago.

That’s not to say Kia doesn’t have a lot of work to do. Mr. Hunt contended that consumers aren’t hip to how much better Kia’s newer models are than their predecessors. So Kia will stage its first ever ride-and-drive event starting next month with 25 stops in 19 cities.

“We’ve got to get people in these cars,” said Mr. Hunt, noting that consumers are surprised to discover the brand’s “fabulous interiors,” quality fit and finish. Omnicom Group auto consultant AMCI is handling the tour.

As part of Sedona’s launch, Kia will become the auto sponsor of this year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, said Ian Beavis, who joined the carmaker last spring as VP-marketing after a similar stint at troubled Mitsubishi Motors North America. The deal includes ads during the April 1 broadcast plus an online competition calling for children to dream up their own ride. Kia will build the winner’s vehicle using a Sedona base.

Shift to online spending
As part of its push, the company will shift media buys this year, said Mr. Beavis. TV spending will be flat vs. 2005, and online will get the biggest spending jump as the company uses mainstream media ads to drive people to its site.

Of the $158 million Kia spent on all U.S. measured media in the first nine months of 2005, $133 million was dedicated to TV, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

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