Seattle, WA - Seattle, home to the original starbucks coffee house, across the street from Pikes Peak market. It's not what you would expect. The original Starbucks coffee house is merely a hole in the wall java juice house. No frills, no chairs outside with green umbrellas. And yet, Starbucks has recreated this coffee house into a global brand known for versatility of coffee choices, good service, and environmentally conscious. All from one little coffee house.
Kia started in the United States with one car. It wasn't a particularly great car. In fact, using Starbucks as an analogy, it was a hole in the wall coffee house type of car. But Kia, too, has reinvented itself into a global brand that is slowly becoming known for its versatility in choice, great warranty, practicality and fuel efficiency.
In today's climate of less than 10 million units per year being sold a car needs to stand out. Kia is down about 7 percent, a lot less than the majority of the auto industry. This means that Kia is actually gaining marketshare. They did last year, they probably will this year. How is Kia bucking the system? The easy answer is with new product, but a deeper look into the numbers Kia showed me explains their strategy.
One would think that Kia does well in the urban areas, just like the Asian companies. But Tom Loveless, director of for Kia, broke it down, "Honda does exceptionally well in urban markets, Toyota does well in urban and rural markets, Kia does well in rural and midwest markets." Clearly, Kia will be targeting the urban market as it strives to gain more marketshare. The Kia Soul has gained marketshare in those areas, and Loveless thinks those conquests will help sell the Forte as well.
The Kia Forte is a 4-door sedan with plenty of room for tall folks such as my driving buddy, Paul Brian. Brian is over six foot, while I'm 5'5" and shrinking. Even with someone in the back neither of us felt cramped. In fact, the Forte is roomier than the Nissan Maxima, which is not in the same car segment, or price range, as a Forte. The competitors for the 2010 Kia Forte are, Mazda Mazda 3S, Toyota Corolla XRS, and Honda Civic. You can choose from nine exterior and 3 interior colors.
Even on such a low priced car there are many standards that are unusual: am/fm CD, mp3, bluetooth connectivity with voice, and dual power outlets in the center console. Front and rear disc brakes, Anti-lock braking system (ABS), Brake assist system (BAS),Electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), Electronic stability control (ESC), Traction control system (TCS), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) are all standard as well. Air conditioning does not come standard on the LX model. In order to get air conditioning on the LX you have to buy the convenience package at $1,500.
Engine choices are a 2.0 liter, 156 horsepower, 144 lb-ft@4,300 rpm that gets 25 city /34highway mpg with either the automatic or the 5-speed manual. You can also get a 2.4 liter, 173 horsepower, 168 ft-lb @4,000 rpm that gets 22 city/32 highway mpg with a 6-speed manual transmission - a first ever for Kia, or 23 city/31 highway mpg with a 5-speed automatic.
There are three models of the Kia Forte: the LX $13,695 EX $15,795 SX $17,195 plus $695 destination charge. The EX has an optional fuel economy package on the 2.0 automatic transmission for $600. Kia has created this 2 mpg increase with an auto smart alternator that only charges the battery when it needs to be charged. They also changed to silica tires, and created aerodynamic enhancements underneath the car to smooth the airflow. Since there is no incentive to spend $600 other than to get 2 more miles per gallon I don't think there will be many takers. I do expect Kia to incorporate this fuel economy in future years, when the new government mandated increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) kicks in.
Fred Aikins, Senior project manager for Kia said that the Forte is replacing the Kia Spectra, a best selling vehicle for Kia for years. But the Spectra had lost its lead and the name is only used here in the United States. As Kia goes global they want a name that sounds global, that sounds strong.
Peter Schreyer, Chief designer for Kia, has designed another winner for Kia. This is a stylish, well-designed compact that core compact buyers will enjoy. It is a good price, with many standards and appropriately fuel efficient for its segment.
The Forte coupe will come out later this summer.