The folks at Kia Motors America Inc. have plenty reason to celebrate. After six years in the U.S. market, the South Korean importer has risen from virtual anonymity to the second fastest-growing brand in the country. Kia, which sells two versions of its Sportage small sport/utility vehicle (SUV) and its Sephia compact sedan in the U.S., has delivered 100,000 vehicles so far in 1999. That's a third of its total sales since coming to America.

Its better-than-expected showing is spurring the company to boost its sales targets to 140,000 for 1999, which foretells a 50% growth over prior year levels.

Kia's secret? “Under promise and over deliver,” says a company spokesman. It also doesn't hurt that Kia has increased its advertising budget by some 40% and leveled off at 535 dealers.

Kia hangs plans for continued success on the '00 versions of the Sephia and Sportage. The importer's strategy calls for holding the line on pricing, while adding “more bang for the buck” value packages. The Sephia retains a base price of $9,995, but gets added equipment worth $855. The Sephia LS increases its base price from last year's $10,995 to $11,595, and gets some $1,600 in new equipment.

Kia's future plans include a sporty, compact hatchback and “Toyota Tercel-sized” subcompact sedan, both to debut in mid-2000; a mid-sized sedan for the '01 model year; and its Sedona minivan, to debut in 2001.

Kia also plans to eliminate platforms as it integrates with new parent company Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd., which purchased Kia after a brush with bankruptcy last year. The two retain separate brands, sales, marketing and production, while combining research and development, purchasing and suppliers, says a Kia official.