Kia Motors America still wants a U.S. manufacturing plant and a fullsize body-on-frame pickup truck.
“Right now we need to build in the U.S.,” KMA President and CEO Peter Butterfield tells Ward's.
He says when U.S. sales reach 300,000 units, Kia will build a plant. He declines to set a timeframe on a pickup.
“We are continuing to talk about North American manufacturing, and our positioning is not a question of whether or not, it's a question of when,” he says.
Asked if Kia would lean toward a southern U.S. location, as sister companyMotor Co. Ltd. did for its first U.S. plant soon to open in Montgomery, AL, Butterfield says, “We'll favor a location where we can get the most efficient, highest-quality plant.”
The situation is especially pressing, as Kia continues to increase its U.S. market share at a rapid pace. In the U.S., alone, it will launch three models this year.
Its Sportage cross/utility vehicle, going on sale this month, was pushed back from a late December launch partly because of its success in South Korea.
The vehicle recently bowed in Europe, where it also is proving to be popular.
“As a global manufacturer, certainly we are competing for production on all of our products, and we will compete for production on the Sportage as well,” Butterfield says.
He adds Kia would be able to sell more than 50,000 units of the model in the U.S. this year if it did not have to “fight for production capacity.”
“I think we can do better than (50,000 in sales), but I don't think we can get that many,” he says.
Also, if a U.S. plant were to be built, it would help Kia introduce body-on-frame vehicles to the U.S. market, says Butterfield.
With the Sportage and Sorento, Kia already offers two unibody utility vehicles in the U.S., and Butterfield says the auto maker now needs to enter body-on-frame segments, calling it another way for the brand to differentiate itself from.
“Hyundai's moving towards unibody and we want to be body-on-frame, so it's another distinction between the two brands.”