Kia Motors is not known for building upscale cars. Long considered the poor cousin of Hyundai, itself a budget automaker, Kia has been following Hyundai's steps in recent years to upgrade its image and product line. No doubt, the Kia Optima is a now a beautiful midsize sedan, priced right and offering many of the amenities today's car buying consumers desire.
Along with the Optima, Kia sells other popular models including its line of Forte compact models, the youthful Soul and its Sorento crossover. Next up is the Kia Cadenza, a large car powered by four and six cylinder engines. It won't fill the bill of what traditional large car buyers want and that is a V-8 engine which leaves open the possibility that an even larger and more luxurious sedan may follow.
Rumors that Kia would follow Hyundai in offering a top of the line model have surfaced in recent months following Hyundai's successful launch of its Equus line beginning in late 2010. Prior to that, Hyundai had introduced the Genesis coupe and sedan, the latter proving to be a strong competitor to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, but priced lower than a Cadillac CTS.
Though some have theorized mixing luxury with Hyundai would be a worthless effort, sales have proven otherwise. Consumers have shown that they're ready to embrace all things Hyundai, a brand now known for delivering rock solid quality, excellent value, state of the art styling and offering the best warranty in the business.
Kia will have to overcome similar obstacles to bringing a luxury or premium full size sedan to the market, along with some other factors too including:
High gas prices - As of this publication, $4 per gallon for gasoline is a challenge for drivers. Still, when it comes to full size luxury, the V-8 rules. If the big Kia delivers 25 miles to the gallon it may have a shot. Then again, at that price would drivers prefer an Audi or a Cadillac?
Stiff competition - A big Kia must be priced to get the attention of drivers who might otherwise purchase a Buick Lucerne or who had previously shopped for a Mercury Grand Marquis. The former model is aged and soon to be discontinued; the latter model ceased production in 2010. Can Kia grab these car owners before others step in?
Residual values - Hyundai new car values are holding up better than ever, but can the same be said of Kia? That's something hard to quantify with a vehicle that isn't even sold yet. If Kia prices its big sedan smartly, then it may attract buyers who won't worry about sharply falling car values a few years down the road.
Hyundai competition - The Kia Optima is a formidable competitor to the outstanding Hyundai Sonata, but hasn't siphoned sales from Hyundai yet. With a full size sedan, that could change if the Kia model goes after the same customers. The luxury market is profitable, but it is also a fairly small market too.