DEALER COUNCIL LEADERS

Kia dealer wants marketing shift

The K900 sedan will be Kia's flagship.
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Kia's dealer council chairman expects sales to rebound in 2014 after the brand last year posted its first annual sales decline since 2008.

Don Hobden, executive manager of six Kia dealerships in Kentucky, Alabama and Indiana and chairman of Kia's dealer council, says Kia's marketing budget last year was consumed by a busy launch schedule while rivals spent heavily on incentives and marketing designed to drive showroom traffic.

Kia's 2013 launches included redesigned versions of its Forte compact car lineup, the Soul subcompact and the new Cadenza upscale sedan.

Hobden: Push the Forte

With only the K900 flagship sedan and a new Sedona minivan on the schedule this year, more marketing funds could go toward brand-building ads, Hobden says. "I think that probably what's happened in the past is after a year of lots of launches and changes, the following year it picks up," Hobden said. "It costs a lot of money to launch a new model or a redesigned car, so I'm hoping that they can apply a lot of that marketing budget to more brand-awareness type marketing at Tier 1 that will help Tier 2 and 3 drive traffic."

Kia sales declined 4 percent last year to 535,179, while the industry overall grew 8 percent. Hobden attributed the stumble to competitors ramping up incentive and marketing expenditures more aggressively than Kia, especially late in the year, he said. He applauded Kia's decision to not overspend and risk damaging residual values down the road.

"I think they were very cognizant of what was going on in the market, that's what they communicated to us, and that they were trying to protect the value of the brand and put their best foot forward," Hobden said.

This year, with better vehicle availability, Hobden says Kia can afford to "pick some fights," perhaps by pushing the Forte compact in the marketplace.

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com. -- Follow Ryan on Twitter


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