LOS ANGELES — Kia eked out a sales gain in the U.S. last year by a mere five units.
But Kia Motors America COO Michael Cole sees bigger growth opportunities for 2019, even if sedan sales across the industry continue to sag or the overall market weakens.
That's because Kia is expanding its lineup this year with more utility vehicles, including a new nameplate in the three-row Telluride and an all-electric edition of the Niro small crossover.
It has also reduced its dependence on basic cars, with the Sorento crossover overtaking the Optima, Forte and Soul as Kia's top seller and the Stinger premium sports sedan notching 16,806 units in its first full year on the market.
Yet, Kia still has a hill to climb in getting its brand message across, said Cole, who joined Kia's U.S. arm in May 2018 after a five-year stint as COO of Kia Motors Europe, where sales surged 40 percent during his tenure.
"We need to ensure we communicate with the wider car-buying public who Kia is," Cole said during the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. "More people have heard of Kia, but we really want them to know who we are. We want to use products like Stinger, products like Telluride, to explain we're not only a company that offers rational products. We offer these emotional products with outstanding quality, durability, reliability, great technology."