DETROIT – CEO Peter Butterfield says he wants Kia Motors America to “be like Toyota and Honda when it grows up.”

And he says Kia will need a pickup truck if it is to become a big player in the U.S.

Peter Butterfield

Speaking to reporters at the introduction here of the all-new Spectra small car, Butterfield says Kia is modeling its business plan on Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

“Our eye is on Toyota and Honda,” Butterfield says.

“I did a study once, and 19 brands have entered the U.S. market since the 1950s,” he adds. “Only two have been truly successful, Toyota and Honda. So when we look at strategy and goals, that’s who we look at.”

Butterfield says Kia America is well on its way to delivering Toyota- and Honda-like sales-per-dealer numbers. Currently, the importer sells less than 400 vehicles per outlet, but that number rises to 700-800 for Kia-exclusive showrooms, he says.

“We want to get to 1,000 units per dealer, which is around where Toyota and Honda are,” he says. That goal should be achievable in three or four years, Butterfield says.

Kia is in the midst of a project launched last April to turn all of its 640 showrooms into exclusive outlets. The goal was to have 50% converted within three years, but Butterfield says that’s already been achieved. Another 75-80 dealers are in the process of building new showrooms, which will be completed in 2004, he says.

Meanwhile, Butterfield says a pickup truck tops his product wish list. Kia is expected to show a concept pickup, based on the Sorento SUV’s body-on-frame platform, at the Chicago auto show next month.(See related story: Kia Pickup Concept in Works; New Flagship Rolls Out)

“I would love to have a pickup truck,” he says. “We’re evaluating it, but no decision has been made. (But) we can’t get to our goal of being a top-line player by 2010 without a truck. To take the next big volume leap, we need a light truck.”

Kia plans to introduce 17 new models by 2007. That includes the return of the Sportage small SUV, which will be at U.S. dealers in fall 2004.

dzoia@primediabusiness.com