SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Kia Motors America Inc. expects its new Rondo multipurpose vehicle to appeal to buyers facing a lifestyle change, an official says at a media event here.

The Rondo, on sale in limited volume since last fall, officially debuts this month at U.S. Kia dealers, with a starting price of $16,995, which includes $600 destination and handling.

Ian Beavis, vice president-marketing, says he sees the Rondo appealing to young married couples, young couples with one child, families with older children and empty nesters.

Instead of targeting a particular demographic, Beavis says Kia is aiming the MPV at a certain mindset, those who are experiencing a change in their life, such as marriage, a new career or change of address.

For this reason, Kia is for the first time advertising in lifestyle publications and websites, with ads specifically geared to those getting married or moving.

First announced at November’s Los Angeles auto show, Kia has created a language it calls “Rondoism,” to promote the vehicle, which directly competes with the Mazda5 MPV in the U.S.

“We got sick of all the language (marketing) people use, so we created our own,” Beavis says of Rondoisms, which are silly fabricated words such as “giddyupedness.”

A 60-second commercial will begin airing in movie theaters across the country next week, featuring a choir with a corresponding rainbow that appears whenever a Rondo is onscreen.

Ward’s data shows Kia has sold 594 Rondos in the U.S. since October.

At next month’s Chicago auto show, the Korean auto maker will debut a new Rondo “SX” sport trim, which will feature some appearance changes and a slight horsepower boost, Beavis reveals to Ward’s.

Kia currently sells the Rondo in LX and EX trims. With the exception of the low-priced 4-cyl. LX Base trim, both offer the choice of a 2.4L 4-cyl. engine mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission or a 2.7L V-6 mated to a 5-speed automatic.

Kia expects 70% of buyers to opt for the Rondo LX and 30% to choose the EX. It also forecasts a 70/30 split between the 4-cyl. engine vs. the V-6, respectively, and a 70/30 ratio for the 5-seat vs. the 7-seat model.

The Rondo’s third-row seat is a $500 option, while the V-6 engine, derived from Kia’s midsize Optima sedan that the MPV is based on, is a $1,000 premium.

Kia is aiming to sell more than 20,000 units annually for the full year, Beavis says. The Rondo is an important part of Kia’s goal to finally break through the 300,000-unit sales mark in the U.S. this year, having missed it in 2006 by about 6,000 units.

While Kia waits for Rondo sales to ratchet up, Len Hunt, chief operating officer, calls the Kia Spectra compact car and Sportage compact cross/utility vehicle “the lifting legs of the franchise,” making up nearly 40% of sales. Kia wants to boost annual sales of both models to 100,000 units each.

Kia Sportage sales rose 27.8% in the U.S. last year to 37,071 units compared with prior-year, while Spectra sales jumped 29.4% to 72,557, Ward’s data shows.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com