Kia is a much different company in 2023 compared with five years ago when it focused on value vehicles with a hefty discount.
A transformative image overhaul, an emphasis on crossovers — including the three-row Telluride, which is in high demand — and more disciplined incentive spending has helped Kia change consumer perceptions, improve residual values and increase average transaction prices across its lineup, said Sean Yoon, 57, CEO of Kia North America and Kia America.
Now the U.S. unit is angling to fill its lineup with a roster of high-style, tech-forward EVs to capture the eye of young, affluent buyers.
Yoon spoke with Staff Reporter Carly Schaffner. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: There have been some changes in consumer behavior and preference over the past couple of years. In your view, how is the U.S. consumer evolving?
A: The average age of a vehicle on the road has been extended. Because of the steep increase in pricing, some customers are moving their focus to used cars or they are trying to fix their cars and extend the life of their old models. New-generation cars come with a lot of new technology, particularly related to autonomous driving and safety. Inevitably the industry will need to increase their prices, but some customers are not ready to accept that. So customers are now more split between new-car buyers and used-car buyers, and that trend will continue.
I also can see some increase in the demand for passenger cars, particularly compact cars. And some customers will lower their expectations and move from the top and middle of the line to lower trims because of the high MSRPs and high interest rates.
Do you think consumers looking for smaller sedans is a trend that will carry over into EVs?
SUVs account for 80 percent U.S. demand, and just 20 percent are passenger cars. This will carry over into the EVs. My expectation is a growth in the passenger car portion because of a better all-electric range and price. The U.S. has not developed enough charging network all over the country, and usage of EVs will be constrained because of all-electric [battery] range and charging availability. So I think the sales mix of passenger cars in the EV market will be higher than in gasoline engine vehicles.