Hyundai and Kia head upscale via different routes

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Hyundai Motor America and affiliate Kia Motors America, which both built their brands on low prices, want to break away from the price trap while differentiating themselves from each other. But due to legal restrictions, officials from Kia and Hyundai-which bought a controlling share of Kia in 1998-don't talk to each other. So, the new divergent direction is coming from their South Korean parent, Hyundai Automotive Group, as it plots to break into the world's top five automakers by 2010 from its current seventh place.

Styling and performance will be a key emphasis at Kia, while Hyundai positions its brand as "refined and elegant," a spokesman said. The company will also focus Hyundai as an alternative to top-tier Japanese rivals.

Peter Butterfield, president-CEO of Kia, said the brand's core-positioning pillars are value, quality and safety. He'll be driving Kia in the coming months to a global redefinition from South Korea as "exciting and enabling," offering youthful sportiness and more aggressive styling.

The first manifestation will be the redone Sportage sport utility, which hits showrooms in December. A 90-second teaser commercial from independent David & Goliath, Los Angeles, breaks on this month, with a fuller, more integrated campaign arriving in January. Kia's parent, which uses "The car that cares" in its home market, is evaluating whether to adopt a global tagline, said Mr. Butterfield. He said he's shooting for a 10% increase in his 2005 ad budget from 2004, noting it's not approved yet.

Kia spent $142 million in measured media through July and $239 million in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

The agency presented the Sportage executions at Kia's annual dealer meeting in Las Vegas last week, to applause from dealers. Observers noted that event was essentially the shop's pitch as it defends the creative account it won without a review in fall 1999. The presentations are set for mid-November.

Hyundai, meanwhile, is just out of the starting gate for launching seven vehicles in 24 months. The all-new Tucson SUV, introduced in September, is the marketer's first new model since 2000, when the bigger Santa Fe SUV drove onto the scene. Arriving in 2005 will be the all-new TG midsize sedan, replacing the XG, and the redone Sonata sedan next spring. The new models will have upscale features such as side-curtain airbags and traction control, said dealers who attended Hyundai's recent meeting.

Five or six years ago, people bought Hyundai because they couldn't afford anything else, he said, but now "Hyundai is becoming a brand people choose to buy," said Paul Sellers, executive director-marketing communications at Hyundai. The average age of buyers across its line here is 46, with an average household income of $60,000. The Sante Fe's buyers have an average household income of $73,000 and a median age of 43.

Independent Richards Group, Dallas, handles Hyundai creative. The marketer spent $191 million through July in measured media and $216 million in 2003, according to CMR.

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