SEOUL -- As Hyundai and Kia develop distinct brand identities, they will keep full lineups, says the executive in charge of separating the sister makes.
"It's not easy for us to remove a car" from one make's lineup, says Brandon Yea, a strategist at the Hyundai & Kia corporate marketing division. "And it's not necessary."
Characteristics of potential buyers will drive the differentiation, Yea says. But he rejects characterizations such as Hyundai means expensive, large, traditional cars and Kia means inexpensive, small, sporty cars.
"I don't like to define our strategy based on segmentation," Yea says.
Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. are deciding how to distinguish their brands. Hyundai Motor owns a little less than 50 percent of Kia.
In January, the automakers settled on brand strategies. Hyundai will be "refined and confident" under the slogan "Drive your way." Kia will be "exciting and enabling" under the slogan "The power to surprise." Now they have to flesh out those identifiers.
Kia introduced the Mesa concept at the 2005 Detroit auto show.
This year, Hyundai and Kia are conducting research in the United States and Europe to learn how they are perceived by customers. Meanwhile, they are working on strategies that relate to branding, styling, advertising and event sponsorship.
So far, one noticeable change is in sports sponsorships. Hyundai is the sole automotive sponsor of soccer's 2006 World Cup in Germany. But from 2007 to 2014 both Hyundai and Kia will sponsor the event.
Hyundai Motor separated the two brands' styling studios last summer. Concept cars that reflect distinct brand attributes are beginning to appear at auto shows, starting with the Kia Mesa SUV at the Detroit show in January. More will follow.
Yea says the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage compact SUVs are examples of how the two brands can share a platform yet produce cars with a different feel. The Tucson's ride and handling are softer, while the Sportage is harder, he says.
Hyundai Motor may be reluctant to move the Hyundai brand up in price because of its plans to launch a luxury brand.
You may e-mail James B. Treece at [email protected]