Kia Has Soul – and Political PR Problems, Too

April 5, 2007
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Kia didn’t have any “new” news in New York so a wise p.r. department skipped the droning executive and threw a relaxed party with juice, booze, cookies and a chocolate fountain dip surrounding the Soul concept vehicle. The Soul was newly repainted white from the silver-blue color it was originally shown in back at the 2006 auto show in Detroit.

As reported, the Soul is still coming stateside at the end of 2008 as an ‘09 model, though the car is not named yet. Soul was playfully chosen as in Seoul, Korea, a play on words. Therefore, there will plenty of opportunity for more punning. Whatever it is ultimately called, the boxy ute will lose the suicide doors and funky rear hatch and gain a B-pillar and conventional tailgate.

Over on the other side of the world, a perhaps less wise executive at Kia decided to make a little news of the unexpected sort. Kia Motors president Cho Nam-hong whispered into the ear of a Korean journalist at the Seoul Motor Show that now that the controversial Korean Free Trade Agreement was concluded, Kia would study a serious run at the U.S. pickup truck market.

It looks like The Free Trade Agreement, much to the consternation of Detroit executives, immediately removes the 2.5 percent tariff from Korean cars entering the U.S. if engines are less than 3.0 liters in size. To give you an idea of how unhappy, here’s an on the record statement. Background discussions are more vehement:

“The Chrysler Group is disappointed with the recent details coming out of Seoul on the free trade agreement signed by the U.S. and Korea last night. We have been working with the Administration since the beginning of the talks to reduce barriers to the Korean auto market, which is the most closed market in the industrialized world. While we have supported every free trade agreement negotiated by the U.S. government, we will not support this agreement as we currently understand it.”

About 28 percent of what Kia sells in the U.S. was immediately affected. Tariffs on larger cars and Korean cars and pickup trucks would be phased out over time. Moreover, Korean companies in total already sold, oh, 700,000 vehicles in the U.S. last year, and are posting double-digit sales increases this year. The Korean market is of course all but closed to U.S. and other automakers trying to export products in that direction, with worldwide import vehicle sales accounting for less than 3 percent of the market.

So guess what hit the wires just before the relaxed Kia lounge started receiving media at its official press conference time in New York? So there was news of a sort, but not the sort that a wise P.R. department would wade into and prolong.

All this goes to show you that, well, you can’t “won” them all. – Ken Zino

Kia Says Soul Coming as '09 Model—

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