SCOTTSDALE, AZ – Kia has a full slate of U.S. product launches this year that includes seven new or refreshed vehicles, compared with a quiet 2012.
"We feel good about where we've been, the direction we're on and where we are going," Tom Loveless, executive vice president-sales, Kia Motors America, tells media at a '14 Sorento and Forte backgrounder here.
Kia sold a record 557,599 units in the U.S. last year, taking a 3.9% share of the U.S. market.
Loveless is hesitant to put a number on 2013 sales, but tells WardsAuto to extrapolate based on an expected 15 million-unit U.S. light-vehicle market. That means if Kia's 2012 share holds, it would give the auto maker volume of 577,500 units this year.
The refreshed Sorento cross/utility vehicle and redesigned Forte compact sedan are the first of Kia's seven launches in 2013.
Kia says Cash for Clunkers, the U.S. government's former program to take old vehicles off the road and stimulate the economy by encouraging new-car purchases, took the wind out of the Forte’s summer 2009 market introduction. The new nameplate was a replacement for the Spectra.
"We were just getting ready to launch (the) Forte," says Kia vice president-marketing Michael Sprague. "The media plan was supposed to start in late July, so we basically pulled the media plan back. (The Forte) never got to build awareness. But we got great Cash for Clunkers results."
The outgoing Forte also lacked the same "emotional" design language of other Kia vehicles that debuted in 2009-2010, including the D-segment Optima, the auto maker says.
The new model rectifies that, Kia claims, with a broad-shoulder look that is reminiscent of the larger Optima, the Korean company’s first U.S. model to sell 150,000 units in a calendar year.
Kia says the Forte’s new design and added optional features, such as a heated steering wheel, should boost its chances in the highly competitive U.S. compact-car group.
Kia isn't assigning a sales goal to the new Forte, which launches in the market in the March/April timeframe, but believes it will do better than the 75,681 units delivered in the U.S. last year.
Kia is expected to unveil a 5-door version of the car at next week's Chicago auto show that will go on sale later in the year. A new Forte Koup 2-door also is planned.
The '14 Forte 4-door will start at about $16,000 for a base LX model with a 6-speed manual transmission. A well-equipped LX with a 6-speed automatic will be priced at $18,000.
The Sorento goes on sale next month. While considered a refresh, the CUV undergoes some aggressive changes including the move to a new platform that also underpins the just-launchedSanta Fe. Kia has tweaked the styling with new headlamp and taillamp designs and less black cladding.
The Sorento receives a new trim level, the SX-L, which includes premium Napa leather-seating surfaces and a high-end Infinity sound system. Optional Flex Steering, also offered in the new Forte, allows drivers to select from Comfort, Normal and Sport steering modes.
The '14 Sorento, which will be promoted during Sunday's Super Bowl game, will begin at $24,100 for the front-wheel-drive LX model. The LX now comes standard with-Kia's 2.4L gasoline direct-injected 4-cyl. engine, while the EX, SX and SX-L grades are powered by the 3.3L GDI V-6 found in the Hyundai Azera and upcoming Kia Cadenza.
Kia isn't divulging details of other debuts this year, but does confirm a Sedona minivan replacement is due. WardsAuto’s product-cycle data shows a new-generation Soul boxy CUV also is planned for this year. The current-generation Soul debuted in 2009 as a '10 model.
The Sorento and the Soul reliably have sold more than 100,000 units annually, although Sorento deliveries dipped 8.2% last year from 2011.
Don’t look for the U.S. debut of Kia's Korean luxury sedan, the K9, any time soon. U.S. product planning chief Orth Hedrick says the auto maker first wants to establish the all-new Cadenza before pursuing a more-expensive luxury car.