Kia aims to close gap between quality and perception by taking J.D. Power title

Article by Andrew Christian, on July 15, 2015

Kia Motors has come a long way when it comes to quality but it’s the first to admit that it has an image problem in the U.S. The fact is, Kia has improved so much in the past decade. Just last June 17, it ranked No. 2 on J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study.

Kia’s quality is still held of low regard in the U.S. where for so long, its budget cars like the Spectra and Sephia have been sold. That is why Kia has set a target to get to the very top of the J.D. Power survey. Kia is hoping that if it gets the No. 1 spot, there will be a sudden shift in consumers’ perception.

In an Automotive News interview, Tim Chaney, vice president of marketing communications at Kia Motors America, said that there remain customers who don’t pay attention to how far Kia has come but the company is confident that it will be able to quickly catch up.

Kia’s image is inferior even to Hyundai, its sibling brand, according to Larry Dominique, president of ALG, a division of TrueCar Inc. In this year’s survey by ALG in which car brands were rated by Americans on quality, Kia came in third to the last.

It was perceived to be better than just Scion and Smart. In comparison, Hyundai was ranked somewhere in the middle of the group. Dominique said that Kia doesn’t have low quality issues but rather, it suffers from having very few people who believe that it offers good quality.

This discrepancy in perception is worth thousands of dollars for each car. Dominique, who used to head U.S. sales at Nissan, said that many Americans believe that the most reliable cars are built by Honda and Toyota. That is why Nissan had to give free content worth $1,000 to $2,000 to close the gap.

He said that to maximize profitability, auto companies have to “be better at selling at a premium with lower value.” He said that while Korean brands have not been able to put a premium price on their cars, they’re in the right direction.

Kia has started to advertise on search engines and social media how well its models ranked in the J.D. Power study, specifically the segment wins of its Soul and Sorento. Chaney said that its ads will be seen in TV and the cinemas this summer.

But due to the strict marketing rules of J.D. Power, Kia isn’t able to boast its No. 2 showing, making it the best among Asian and mass-market brands. Only the No. 1 brand can advertise its overall performance. This makes the J.D. Power win an even more crucial achievement for Kia. Nonetheless, Chaney thinks that there are already changes to how the brand is perceived.

Topics: kia, united states

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