Americans Still Think Kia Cars Are Substandard

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After 20 years in the US, Kia just can't shake its cheap image.

It’s been 20 years since Kia launched its first cars in the US. And for 20 years, Americans have, for the most part, thought of them as substandard cars. But like its sister brand Hyundai, Kia has come a long way over the past two decades. Its current lineup is without question a vast improvement over its original entries, the 1995 Sportage SUV and Sephia compact. Yet Kia simply can’t shake off the stigma of its early years, despite winning numerous awards from the likes of JD Power and Associates for Initial Quality.

It was also recognized by Wards Auto for things like 10 Best Interiors (2014 Soul and 2013 Cadenza). Kia’s chief marketer for the US, Michael Sprague, is understandably quite frustrated that the public’s perception hasn’t changed at the same rate Kia has improved across the board. "When I came into the position six years ago, in my head I thought it was going to be about a 5-year period of time to change (Americans’ perception of us)," Sprague stated. "And it has changed. But I’d like it to go faster. I haven’t gotten everybody yet." Here’s proof of that bad perception: in ALG’s Brand Perception of Quality study for 2014, Kia placed just above Suzuki (which isn’t even sold in the US anymore) and Smart.

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Heck, it even fell behind brands it topped in JD Power’s ISQ, specifically Audi, BMW, Honda, Mercedes, Nissan and Subaru. So how to overcome this? Kia is advertising heavily on "Sunday Night Football," aired ads during the MTV Video Music Awards, and remains the "official automotive partner" of the NBA and LPGA.

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