LOS ANGELES -- Kia is considering adding dealerships in large metropolitan areas that account for so many U.S. light-vehicle sales.
Tom Loveless, executive vice president of sales for Kia Motors America, said about a third of U.S. sales come from the 10 largest metro markets. He said he would like to add a few points in those markets.
"We're OK in markets 11 to 20 but under-represented in the top 10," Loveless told Automotive News.
He said Kia's main emphasis is on increasing sales at existing dealerships rather than opening a slew of stores. Kia's current network of 765 dealerships is "about right" for a 14.5 million unit U.S. market, and new dealerships must have strategic value.
But if the market grows, Kia will probably need more dealers.
"In a perfect world, with 16 million in sales, we might want 780 to 800 dealers," Loveless said. For example, such a market could warrant about 15 additional points in the New York tri-state area.
Nationwide, Kia's sales rose 17 percent through August. Market share was 4.0 percent, up from 3.9 percent for the same period last year.
In greater Los Angeles, where Kia has historically lagged its nationwide share levels, the brand opened three dealerships this summer -- two in Los Angeles County and one in Orange County.
Kia's retail registrations in Los Angeles County jumped more than 87 percent in the first seven months of 2012, by far the most of any mainstream brand during that period, according to Experian Automotive.
The 8,840 new Kias registered in Los Angeles County equaled a 4.2 percent share of registrations, up from 3 percent for 2011 and just 1.2 percent in 2010.
Ken Phillips, who owns two Kia stores in greater Los Angeles, said his flagship dealership in Carson, Calif., is selling about 450 new vehicles a month, up considerably from last year.
Phillips said the store has been the nation's highest volume Kia dealership for five out of the first eight months of the year.
He attributed Kia's rise to a strong U.S. management team and the quality, features and improved design of its current vehicles.
"You put all that together and a little bit of catching on, and people are finding out what a great opportunity it is," Phillips said. "We're just cooking."
Todd Turner, principal of Car Concepts, a consulting company in suburban Los Angeles, said the attractive sheet metal of Kia's new vehicles is helping the brand appeal to Southern California's style-conscious consumers.
"The Optima in particular appeals to people who appreciate clean, taught, tense design," Turner said. "More or less, those people tend to be on the coasts."
Jesse Snyder contributed to this report