Top Kia exec casts doubts on Schreyer's hopes for roadster

Kia GT4 Stinger Concept
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SEOUL -- A top Kia executive doused designer Peter Schreyer's dreams for a sporty roadster, saying it wouldn't adequately build the brand or boost profits.

Kia's first priority needs to be strengthening brand image and awareness, overseas marketing chief Lee Soon-nam said. Only after doing that can the Korean carmaker dabble with niche products.

"The volume will be smaller and then we can't enhance the brand image fully," Lee told Automotive News Europe's sister publication Automotive News. "We would like to build our brand image to some level. Then we can maximize the effects of the new car launch."

Lee's comments signal an internal debate at Kia about how to develop the brand and differentiate it from Hyundai Motor Co., its bigger corporate stablemate in the Hyundai Motor Group.

Schreyer, who started as design chief at the Kia brand in 2006, was promoted to global design boss for both brands last year. He has argued that Kia needs a small sporty car to help cement its image as the youthful pick. Think Mazda MX-5 Miata or Audi TT.

At this year's Detroit auto show, Kia showed the GT4 Stinger concept, a 2+2 sports coupe.

At April's New York auto show, Schreyer indicated that an upmarket, sporty rear-wheel-drive four-door coupe, inspired by the GT concept shown at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show, had been all but greenlighted.

But Lee cited two concerns about such a strategy. The first is that a sporty car's volumes may be too small to generate sufficient profits. The second is that Kia's global brand recognition isn't yet strong enough to support one.

"From a marketing point, a new car launch should be helpful to enhancing the brand image," Lee said. "If a Chinese brand introduced a roadster, would it affect customer perception? I don't think so.

"Even though we are doing very well in the global market, many customers do not know Kia yet."

Jens Meiners contributed to this report.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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