Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Kia expects to close out the year with at least another 50,000 vehicle deliveries after passing its 2011 sales goal of 400,000 units last month.

“We’ll beat 450,000,” U.S. sales chief Tom Loveless tells WardsAuto at the auto show here. He declines to be more specific: “I jinx myself when I do that.”

The Korean auto maker shows off its rear-wheel-drive GT concept sedan from the Frankfurt motor show here in L.A. and announces a new sports-related affiliation with the Ladies Professional Golf Assn.

Attention comes its way as the market’s fastest-growing brand this year sees sales soar 35.4% through October.

Much of the growth comes courtesy of the Optima midsize sedan, up 181.6%. Launched late last year in the U.S., the Optima is bringing more-affluent customers to the Kia brand.

From a mix standpoint, Kia is seeing the most well-appointed Optimas selling best.

“We’re running a little bit richer mix than perhaps we even thought was possible,” Loveless says, admitting some of that has to do with dealer lots filled largely with higher grades.

Some 40% of Optima sales now are the 2.0L turbocharged model. Loveless says a third of those are the sporty SX trim line.

The only model not meeting expectation is the Optima Hybrid, which is available only the East and West Coasts, where such vehicles sell best.

Sales soon will begin in the southern states of Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia. The Midwest will be the last region to get the car.

“It doesn’t make sense to put one (hybrid) car on every dealer’s lot,” Loveless says. “The dealer has to make an investment in terms of training, special tools, that sort of thing.

Let’s give the dealers in the biggest markets the opportunity to see how high is up and then we’ll roll out (the Optima Hybrid) everywhere.”

Loveless says he is looking forward to the extra production between now and next year from Kia’s West Point, GA, plant, where the Optima is built.

Kia made a $100 million investment in the factory this year to expand capacity by 60,000 units.

“Hopefully, we’ll sell them,” he says. “We think there’s upside in terms of demand for (the) Optima, just based on what we’ve seen over the course of the first year.”

The incremental Optima production, plus a beefed-up supply of Rio subcompact cars from Korea, “will really be the two pillars for continued growth in 2012,” Loveless says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com