Rising in the East (and West)

Ben Holland gets a behind-the-scenes look at how one of the fastest growing auto industry performers of 2016 will make an even bigger splash in 2017

Let’s play pretend for a moment.

You run a company that makes products that most people want or need in some way. You’re pretty well established in a highly competitive market. Sure, there are bigger, better-established brands with bigger ranges – but there are also newer names, too, jockeying alongside you for position.

The past year has been a bit of an uncertain one for your industry, with some of the bigger brands taking a bit of a beating. Then you look where you are standing. Overall sales up 14% year-on-year in 2016, with several brand-new launches coming to market in 2017 – including completely new versions of current products, and ones that push you into new segments.

You’d be pretty confident, right? You should be.

The products I’m talking about are cars, and the company is Kia. The Kia name means ‘rising in the East’, but they’re rising up more widely than that. Following our visit to Kia’s annual UK dealer conference in Liverpool, it is clear that Kia are a brand on the crest of a wave. It was inspiring stuff.

Kia’s cars are looking both more dynamic and aspirational. The range is young and modern, and the new segments they are entering are ones that only a truly confident brand would target. 

Consider the Stinger – the 350bhp continent-crossing GT car that Kia launched at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It’s a more powerful, higher priced car than the brand has ever produced, going toe-to-toe with established premium brands such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Wow. And the only sense I got at the conference was of Kia saying: Bring. It. On.

Yet it is also clear that Kia understand how to work in partnership with their dealers across the UK. In contrast to the way I have seen other, more ‘established’ brands talk (down) to their dealers, the tone of the Kia dealer conference was inclusive, collaborative. 

It was all about how Kia are giving the dealers every chance to sell lots of great cars and make more money. Very Korean in its own way – work together for a greater goal. Not the didactic approach I’ve seen some European brands take.

I came away glad that we work with such a brand, and what a great year they have ahead. Keep your eye on Kia.

You can follow Ben Holland on Twitter @Bsaholland