DETROIT – Kia Motors America Inc. officials are cautiously optimistic following record sales in the U.S. last year, for the 13th year in a row, a trend they hope to continue in 2007.

The importer sold 294,301 vehicles last year, a 6.7% gain over 2005’s 275,851, Ward’s data show.

In November, KMA delivered its 2 millionth vehicle in the U.S., while December ranked as the unit’s best sales month ever, with 30,004 deliveries, a 60% surge ahead of prior year’s 18,767.

“A key factor is we must always be honest with ourselves,” Len Hunt, KMA executive vice president and chief operating officer, says at the North American International Auto Show here.

“Today our owners just don’t feel an emotional allegiance to Kia. We’re tapping on the glass ceiling, but we’ve yet to break through to reach that level of pride.”

Hunt is hopeful Kia’s Soul cross/utility vehicle unveiled at last year’s Detroit show and set to join the auto maker’s U.S. lineup in 2008, will attract the attention KMA needs.

Last year, KMA sold 72,557 Spectra cars, 57,018 Sedona minivans and 50,672 Sorento cross/utility vehicles, according to Ward’s data, and Hunt says he is confident deliveries will continue to grow.

“Our spectacular progress is being driven by a keen understanding of this marketplace and by a growing family of cars to reflect that understanding,” he says.

Newly named KMA President and CEO Lee Bong-gou agrees. “Kia Motors is committed to supporting continued growth in key markets through smart investments, technology, production and design,” he says at the show.

KMA still is two years away from completion of its state-of-the-art $1 billion manufacturing plant in West Point, GA. Ground was broken for the 2.4 million-sq.-ft. (224,000-sq.-m) greenfield plant in October. A North American design center also is set to open later this year in Irvine, CA.

South Korean parent Kia Motors Corp. has said it is targeting total global sales of 1.54 million units this year, a 22% increase over 2006.

The auto maker launched its first European plant last year, located in Slovakia. Kia’s all-new Cee’d hatchback, which premiered at the Paris auto show last fall, currently is in pilot production there, with sales set to begin in Europe this summer.

egenoff@wardsauto.com