Car connoisseurs are in for a real treat when the new Kia Stinger graces British roads later this year. It’s already creating huge interest in the motoring press so I was really looking forward to seeing it in the flesh at the launch of the new Hendy Kia dealership in Portsmouth where the car was making its UK dealership debut.
I was not disappointed. A dynamic looking car, the Stinger has real presence and looked wonderful in the signature Kia metallic Infra Red: sleek, dramatic and worthy of the GT descriptor.
What’s fascinating, though, is how Kia has maneuvered itself into a position to challenge these long established premium brands.
Kia has become a cool brand
It’s a journey which has taken many years of painstakingly building a range of cars that people want to buy. In short, it’s about creating a brand based on reliability, reputation and design flair but, more than that, it has to be combined with the necessary ambition of wanting to take on the best. Our client Hendy Group has held the Kia franchise for 11 years and in that time UK sales have risen from 30,000 to 90,000 a year. Impressive stats.
At the Portsmouth launch I met up with Kia’s UK president and CEO Paul Philpott. He was justifiably proud of the brand’s performance and can’t wait to see the public’s reaction to the Stinger. The most satisfying aspect of the Kia range was, he said, that the on the road performance matched the distinctive styling. He added that Kia’s ground breaking seven-year warranty played a vital role in securing customer buy-in.
Talking things through with Hendy’s commercial director Mark Busby we decided that, more than anything, Kia has become a cool brand. And I think it’s probably true. Of course the product has to hit all the spots but from a marketing perspective positive brand awareness plays a crucial role.
Levering sponsorships in the sporting world
I’m not privy to Kia’s marketing strategy but there have been some big-ticket sponsorships which have enabled the Kia brand to achieve cut through. Kia has been a long standing official partner of FIFA and UEFA and has partnered each World Cup since 2006. In cricket Kia acquired the naming rights for the historic Oval cricket ground now known as The Kia Oval. It’s a seven-year deal – which nicely refers back to the warranty period. Clever.
The manufacturer is also the primary shirt sponsor of Surrey County Cricket Club and Kia is particularly proud of its ground-breaking sponsorship of the England Women’s Cricket Team. The historic deal represents the first ever standalone commercial arrangement for the England women’s team and in signing the agreement Kia has become the first ever official England women’s cricket partner. The reward was swift – England Women sealing a dramatic World Cup win last month against India! In addition, 2016 Kia sponsored the first ever Women’s Cricket Super League.
Becoming a Kia convert
I was a committed Mercedes driver and it was Mark who encouraged me to drive the Sportage. Sure, value for money is an important ingredient but the truth is it’s a great looking car and an excellent drive. The levels of equipment are fast becoming legendary and include blind spot detection, reversing camera, heated steering wheel and, my personal favourite, air-conditioned front seats. A good friend has a Porsche Macan who took me through “his extras” – my Sportage matched them all and some. Pretty impressive for a car two thirds of the Porsche price.
And it was the Sportage which was the game changer for Kia. Today, it’s a very familiar sight on the country’s roads. Auto Trader, the UK’s largest marketplace for new and used cars, announced the top ten fastest selling used cars of 2016, with Kia’s 2014 Sportage taking the top spot. It took an average of just 23 days for the compact SUV to leave the forecourt.
Over the weekend I was with another of my mates who is a self-confessed petrol-head (he owns a McLaren and a BMW). An admirer of what Kia has done – and a fan of my Sportage – he hadn’t heard of the Kia Stinger but quickly fed the name into Google. He was more impressed than he thought. My verdict on this exciting new entry into the premium car market place only served to whet his appetite. “Would I actually buy one?” he mused. I promised him a visit to Hendy Kia in Portsmouth in November when the Stinger officially goes on sale. I have a feeling that could well just clinch the deal.