Kia Grows Up: From Hamsters To James Bond

The 2016 Kia Sorento.

Celebrating 20 years in the US, Kia pegs its next era on aspirational luxury.

On the classic sitcom Mary Tyler Moore, Mary fretted when she threw parties, worried that no one would show up.

What if you threw a party, or a press event, and no one came?

This was the situation at Kia’s very first press event 20 years ago. Not a single member of the press came. But Kia persevered, and is now savvy enough to use action hero Pierce Brosnan in its advertising.


The rich leather and sophisticated color palette in the Kia K900. Credit: Judy Antell for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Growing sophistication

The South Korean automaker has used hamsters for years in its ads for the Kia Soul, but Tim Chaney, director of marketing and communications of Kia, said recently at a meeting of the International Motor Press Association that rodents and James Bond can co-exist.

The Pierce Brosnan ad, which aired during Super Bowl XLIX, is supposed to be a one-off – but then, so were the hamsters. And using Bond, er, Brosnan, represents the growing sophistication of both the brand and the Kia customer.

The 2016 Sorento ad shows a ‘perfect getaway’ – but instead of escaping explosions and snipers, Brosnan is heading to a cabin for a tryst with a beautiful woman. Still very James Bond, but from behind the wheel of a luxury sedan.

Growing in the luxury segment

Chaney talked about Kia’s bridge strategy to ‘stair step’ customers to the next level; someone buying an entry level car could become loyal to the brand, and want a more luxurious vehicle. Thus, the Sorento crossover and Kia’s luxurious K900 sedan appeal to that customer. But Kia also packs value into all its models, with attention to detail, luxury materials and advanced features like safety and technology across the fleet.


Will Brosnan help Kia pierce the exclusive luxury market?

Chaney also talked about Kia’s investment in quality, with the 10 year warranty offered.

And he acknowledged that the bar is set so high nowadays, with every car maker offering quality and technology, that Kia competes on its customer experience. When Kia first came to the US 20 years ago there were not many Kia-exclusive dealers; they often were part of another store, not a premium dealership or experience. But as the brand has matured and moved into ranks of premium brands and more affluent customers, dealerships matured too.

Now, more dealers are opening exclusive Kia stores, with some designated as “Gallery” stores. These are modern, with attention to the architecture. The bright and welcoming stores, to showcase cars in a good light. Some have cafes, along with enhanced customer service; dealers receive extra training to offer a premium experience, inside the car and the dealership.

Growing the market

Kia’s five millionth vehicle was built in 2014, and as a top selling brand in the US, the company is building a new plant in Mexico.

Now its parties are well-attended. Mary should be impressed.

Judy Antell, who is's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell