Kia sales in the United States will surpass 500,000 units next year and the dealer network will grow to 800 stores in 2012, says Kia Motors Corp.'s top-ranked global executive.
In an interview, Vice Chairman Hank Lee, who is based in Seoul, said Kia expects to sell 470,000 new vehicles this year, up from 356,268 in 2010. Through September, U.S. sales surged 37 percent to 367,405, topping the brand's full-year sales record set last year.
Lee also said Kia is attracting new dealers in the United States, while replacing poor-performing stores and improving existing dealerships.
"We will increase the number of U.S. dealers from 760 to about 800 by next year," he said.
But Kia's main focus is strengthening dealers in 20 key U.S. markets, he added.
"We are attracting good candidates who are willing to invest in our brand," Lee said. "The number is not as important as the quality. In the first half of 2011, we replaced about 50 to 60 small, old, low-performing dealers with interesting new ones who are willing to invest into the brand."
In a separate interview, Tom Loveless, vice president of sales for Kia Motors America, said Kia will add points when opportunities arise in markets where the brand is underrepresented. But he said the company isn't necessarily targeting 800 dealerships.
"If it ends up being 800, I would be surprised, but that doesn't mean it won't be 800," Loveless said.
He said the company's main goal is to improve the performance of its existing dealers.
"You don't want to be in a hurry to get it wrong," Loveless said. "We're really trying to concentrate on working with the network we have."
Kia has helped some dealers move into better locations and facilities within the same markets.
Kia launched a facility image program, called "Gallery," this year. Loveless estimated that 75 to 80 dealers have agreed to build new facilities under the program.
This year, Kia dealers average about 49 new-vehicle sales per month, about double the brand's monthly average in 2008, Loveless said.
"Dealer profitability is way up," he said, "and we know that by strengthening the dealers, along with product, we have a pillar for long-term growth."