Buoyed by skyrocketing sales, a growing number of Kia dealers are investing to improve their dealership facilities.
Kia says 32 of its approximately 730 stores will complete construction projects in 2011 under the Kia Image Facility Assistance Program.
Another 45 have made improvements under the program, which provides dealers with financial backing. Thirty-seven dealerships have undertaken renovation projects outside the program in recent months.
Tom Loveless, Kia's U.S. sales boss, said dealers shied away from the program during the recession. Now, with strong sales and rising market share, he said more of them are improving stores in anticipation of further growth.
"We're not holding dealers' arms behind their backs, but we are asking dealers to invest in their facilities to prepare for bigger and better things," Loveless said. "We're growing share in a bigger pie, so dealers need to be ready for that."
Kia sold 151,848 vehicles through April, up 42 percent from a year ago. Kia's market share grew to 3.6 percent, from 3.0 percent in the same period last year, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Loveless said Kia covers part of the construction costs for projects that meet the brand's facility requirements. He wouldn't be more specific.
He said Kia has not set a goal for the number of dealerships it wants to make improvements.
Jim Hardick, co-owner of Moritz Kia in Hurst, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, said the store was built to conform with Kia's standards. The dealership, which opened in December 2009, sells about 120 new vehicles per month.
Hardick, who has another Kia store in Fort Worth, said Kia's improved product line and growing sales led him to build the new store.
"I was just watching Kia's sales versus the rest of the industry through other franchises we own, and I felt like they withstood the economic downturn better than any of our other franchises," he said. "It was a calculated risk, but we felt like we were going to be OK."