RICK KRANZ

How Kia wants to tease U.S. buyers with rwd concept car

Drawings of the KH concept reveal a similarity to the GT concept, which debuted last September at the Frankfurt auto show and has been shown in Los Angeles and Chicago.
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.
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DETROIT -- Kia seems to be prepping America for the brand's first luxury sedan, one auto show at a time.

Executives say no decision has been made to sell its first rear-wheel-drive sedan here, but Kia is sure spending a lot of time and effort moving its big, head-turning GT concept across the show circuit. So far, the sporty-looking GT is slated for four U.S. shows and one in Canada.

Thus it appears Kia will soon be competing with the Audi 6, BMW 5 series, Mercedes-Benz E class -- and the Hyundai Equus.

This week, Kia Motors Corp. announced that the sedan will be unveiled in Korea by this summer.

The production car, code-named KH, will be sold globally. Much of the GT's design will appear on the KH, which shares a platform with Hyundai's Equus sedan.

Today, Kia's most expensive U.S. sedan is the Optima Limited, which stickers for about $35,000. If the KH is sold here, it would presumably be priced similar to the Equus, which ranges from about $59,000 to $66,000.

Tom Loveless, Kia's North American sales chief, said that if the rwd sedan is sold here, it would be slotted above the Cadenza, a new Kia sedan that goes on sale here next year.

The front-wheel-drive Cadenza is larger and more luxurious than the Optima and aimed at buyers of the Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon. Loveless didn't talk pricing, but the Cadenza will likely sell in the mid-$30s to low $40s.

Michael Sprague, Kia's North American marketing boss, wouldn't say if the KH is coming to America, but revealed a little bit of the strategy.

"It would definitely be a halo vehicle, limited number," Sprague said. "You don't want to build anymore than you have to. You want it to be unique vehicle for the brand."

Kia released drawings of the KH after my conversations with the Kia team at the Chicago Auto Show. Those drawings reveal a similarity to the GT concept, which debuted last September at the Frankfurt auto show and has been shown in Los Angeles and Chicago. The concept is now is heading to Toronto, Atlanta and New York.

What's been the public's reaction?

"Overwhelmingly positive, here and overseas," Sprague said. "We know L.A. loved it. We want to get a Midwest perspective. We want to get a Southern perspective and then a Northeast perspective."

He added: "People are asking, 'When are you going to build it?'"

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