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by Jay Traugott
Like its sister brand Hyundai, Kia wants to continue moving upmarket. But could it ever emerge as a real luxury brand?
South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia have been on a roll lately. Once the butt of jokes, both are now producing well-built, attractively-priced and nicely-designed cars. Just a decade ago, the very notion of a quality Korean car seemed almost unthinkable, even laughable. Times have changed and so has Kia, but could redefining a budget brand as an upscale one be a step too far? That's just what Kia's vice chairman has in mind for the company.
Hyoung-Keun Lee has gone on record stating that Kia will become a premium brand by 2017. Which may seem like a stretch when you look at the Forte or Rio, but less when you look at the Quoris/K9. Kia is planning on bringing that rear-drive flagship sedan to US showrooms for 2014, potentially spearheading an upscale product offensive. With former Audi designer Peter Schreyer on board, it may not be that far off. If this is all sounding familiar, you're probably thinking of Hyundai. A few years ago Kia's parent company was in the same position as Kia is now, but broke away from its budget hatchback image with the Genesis and Equus.
Those are both vehicles which share the same basic architecture as the Quoris, and which succeeded in repositioning the brand as a compelling and more attractively-priced alternative to its Japanese or German rivals. Hyundai may still have a ways to go before it's in the same league as BMW or Lexus - Kia that much more so - but it seems to be just one step behind its big brother.