Although neither Kia Motors Corp. nor its U.S. sales arm, Kia Motors America, is specifying which models will be built at the forthcoming West Point, GA, plant, one official says a long-spoken of large pickup truck is a possibility.

Len Hunt, KMA chief operating officer, says such a vehicle still is on the table.

“(It’s) part of the discussion about what we’re going to build and what we’re going to look at as we move forward,” he tells Ward’s. (See related story: Kia to Build First U.S. Plant in Georgia)

Len Hunt

Kia long has wanted to get into the lucrative fullsize pickup truck segment in the U.S., which it could not do previously because of a large tax imposed on imported pickup trucks by the U.S. government. (See related story: Kia: U.S. Plant, Fullsize Pickup Still Urgent Needs)

Hunt says a truck is among the many models being discussed for production at West Point, although he offers that Kia’s best-selling U.S. models are the Spectra compact car, Sedona minivan and Sportage SUV.

Kia’s announcement that it will establish its first North American manufacturing facility in Georgia shows how serious the South Korean auto maker is about growing its U.S. volume, Hunt says.

“It’s all part of a strategy that’s been in place for sometime now,” he says of the plant, set to open in 2009. “It’s part of the aggressive growth strategy we’ve got, where we want to build and sell more cars here.

“We’re obviously selling at about the 300,000-mark today, which we hope to plunge through this year. But it really adds to this (beyond the) $300 million investment that we’ve already made in U.S.”

Hunt cites Kia and parent Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.’s new Ann Arbor, MI, tech center; Kia’s Mojave, CA, proving grounds; and upcoming Irvine, CA, design studio; as the auto maker’s other prominent U.S. investments.

He says the Georgia plant tells Kia dealers the company is “here to stay.

“In order for us to double our volume, with roughly the same amount of dealers, we don’t want to double our dealer network.”

“So our dealers are going to have to invest too, because it’s going to be more vehicles, more customers to satisfy. So before they step up in terms of their investment, they want to see the manufacturer investing.” (See related story: Kia Hopes Trip Will Motivate Dealers)

Hunt says Kia plans to add dealers in “some (U.S.) cities,” but says the auto maker’s roughly 650 dealers largely are located in the right geographic regions.

Kia wants to sell north of 300,000 units in the U.S. in 2006, having sold 275,851 vehicles last year, up 2% from 2004. By the end of the decade, the auto maker is looking to be in the 500,000-600,000-volume range, Hunt says.

Kia right now sells nine models in the U.S. Hunt says the company needs to expand into segments it presently is not in to grow volume.

One is the multipurpose vehicle segment, with Hunt confirming Kia is looking to bring a production model based on the well-received Multi-S concept MPV shown at last month’s Chicago auto show.

“It’s our intention to go to production with a model derived off that concept,” he says. “We haven’t put a date out yet as to when.”

Ward’s Future Product Program chart shows Kia bringing the similarly sized Carens MPV to the U.S. in the ’08 model year. (See related data: Ward's North America Product Cycle Chart)

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com