Kia and Hyundai change their image (2007)

Published: 22 June 2007

What Kia and Hyundai are doing next

The Korean giants are planning a bit of an image change. The world’s fastest growing car producers (in volume) are planning the next phase of their expansion. Both Kia and Hyundai are gunning for a stronger international status and want to become serious global players in the automotive market. However, this isn’t enough for the Eastern auto makers. Whilst maintaining their familiar value-for-money status, Kia wants to bump its image up to a sporty brand. Hyundai is hot on the tails of the luxury market, with cars such as the Genesis Concept (above) paving the way for future models.

Luxury and sporty?! Sounds like they’ve got their work cut out...

They certainly have. Kia’s first hurdle is a pretty fundamental one – there isn’t anything close to a sporty car in its range. The only radical car to grace Kia's design board of late was the KND-4 Concept (above), which was a design experiment to showcase the way for future Kias. It's worth remembering that Hyundai is hardly renowned as a Rolls-Royce rival either. On top of this, both marques are fed up with being confused with one another, and are after a more clear-cut identity to distinguish themselves. How do they intend to do this? By changing the names of the cars, of course.

The names of the cars?

Sounds crazy, but that’s the thinking behind it. In order for Joe public to remember the difference between Hyundai and Kia, they have decided to change their naming policies for new models. Hyundai is adopting the simple strategy of numbering its cars. The Atoz is due for a replacement early next year, so it will become the i10. The Getz will become the i20 when it is replaced later in the year, and the new i30 (above) will be Hyundai’s equivalent of the Kia Cee’d. You get the idea. Kia, on the other hand, is sticking with names, so as to differentiate itself from Hyundai. It’s still got a long way to go before it’s seen as anything like a sporty brand, though.

But names alone aren't enough to distinguish Hyundai and Kia, surely?

The proof will be in the pudding. Both brands will have a tough time convincing buyers that they’re anything more than the cheap ‘n’ cheerful manufacturers they’ve always been. Kia and Hyundai will continue to share components between their cars, so there will still be a degree of similarity between them. It doesn’t look as though Kia is making too much progress, either. Both the Picanto and Rio are due facelifts later in the year, but there’s little sign of anything remotely sporty going on with them. There is talk of one or two soft-top models heading for production, such as the Cee’d cabriolet (above), which should certainly increase the company’s sporting kudos. However, Hyundai also has plans for a topless version of the Coupe, which scuppers Kia’s plans for a distinct sporty image.

So what's the future for Kia and Hyundai?

There’s definitely something in the Korean water, as both manufacturers are looking to earn themselves a new profile. September’s Frankfurt Show could be the big giveaway, as Kia is due to reveal a new line-up of sporty iR models, to boost its image and distance it further from Hyundai. So, is it worth keeping an eye out for some Porsche beaters from Kia and Lexus rivals from Hyundai? Best wait a while for those. They need some halo models to shift the perception they're best known for cars like the Picanto (above)...

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

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