Borrego Springs, CA -- Tiny Kia Motors America Inc. is not shy Bas it carves its way into the crowded U.S. vehicle market. The South Korean automaker has plans for two upscale models and is eyeing U.S. assembly, just a year after it entered the market.

Kia recently launched its second vehicle in the U.S. - the Sportage compact sport/ utility. It joins the Sephia compact sedan at Kia's 96 dealers in 13 Western states.

For now, the base 4wd Sportage features a 94-hp 2L SOHC engine and is priced at $14,195. This month Kia replaces the SOHC powerplant on 4wd models with a 139-hp 2L DOHC engine. Prices for DOHC models start at $15,295. An upscaleSportage EX, with standard cruise, air, full-size spare, rear wiper and remote tailgate opener, will start at $16,195.

Also bowing in April is an entry-level rear-drive 139-hp SOHC model priced at $13,995. Kia will drop the SOHC engine and rear-drive models for 1996, offering only the DOHC powerplant and 4-wheel drive. Sportage was to debut with the DOHC engine, but emissions certification took longer than anticipated.

Kia's new SUV is aimed squarely at the Isuzu Rodeo, Jeep Cherokee and Nissan Pathfinder. And Kia says it is not threatened by Toyota's compact RAV-4, which will bow in the U.S. later this year.

Kia is so confident its current products will do well in the U.S. that it does not want to share them with anyone, including Ford Motor Co., which owns 10% of Kia and sells the Kia-built Aspire here.

A Ford deal could have given Kia access to Ford's 4,200 domestic dealers, in addition to the 550 Kia says it will have nationwide by early 1997. But Kia says its own identity is more important.

"It's important for a brand to ... have exclusive products that define the brand. And the Sephia and Sportage will define Kia for a long time," says Greg Warner, executive VP of Kia Motors.

Ford will, however, sell the Sportage in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr. Warner says Kia would like to have 250,000 vehicles sell in the U.S. by 2000. The lineup will then include a larger G-car sedan with a Kia/Rover-designed V-6 as well as a luxury variant of the Mazda 929. If sales hit that mark "the company will be deep in the process of getting into the manufacturing business in the U.S. by then," says Mr. Warner.

The G-car goes on sale in Korea this summer with a 4-cyl. engine. It will bow with a V-6 in the U.S. in mid- 1997, Mr. Warner says.