A totally new car deserves a new name.
Much to our surprise, Kia dropped its longstanding Optima nameplate in favor of the globally-used K5 name. The 2021 Kia K5 takes over where the Optima left off as Kia's midsize rival for models such as the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. Still, this all-new model is different enough that Kia says it warranted a name change. CarBuzz recently spoke to a panel of representatives from Kia Motors America regarding the new K5, and we were able to ask questions about the name change, including how it may apply to other models in the Kia range.
There is "nothing to announce as of today," said James Bell, Director of Corporate Communications, when asked about a lineup change to a K-based naming convention. For reference, other Kia models globally use names ranging from K1 to K9. "I can tell you that the process of renaming was taken under a lot of consideration," Bell added.
We should also note that Bell wouldn't comment on the name change until after Kia revealed the K5 for the US market, so there is still a high possibility that future Kia models could switch to the K-based nomenclature.
"The Optima name was, obviously, very strong. That was the vehicle that changed the game," Bell continued, speaking of the challenges of ending a nameplate that helped changed Kia's brand perception in the US. "When people saw that car, they said 'this is an affordable, midsize sedan that I want to be seen in.' It had a design story that I think the Korean brands were sorely missing at that time."
"Between the two-generation old Optima and the one that is just now going away, if we had changed the name between those two, it would have felt very forced. It would have felt very strange," he explained. "But this vehicle is so different. Yes, it's got, a steering wheel, tires, glass, it's a car. But it is also a shocking departure from what it was prior. So we then felt better about shifting over the name. Because it deserves a new name."
As for other models in the Kia lineup that still use non-alphanumeric names (Rio, Forte, Cadenza, Soul, and the crossovers), Bell left it open to interpretation if they too will switch to names like K1, K3, K7, etc. "Going forward, I think we can say that new generations of vehicles that have that K nomenclature in other parts of the world, if they are worthy, if they are also shocking [like the K5], then KMA will consider them as well," Bell answered.
Only time will tell if the change from Optima to K5 was a smart move for Kia. Having driven the new K5, we can say it feels like a remarkable improvement from the outgoing Optima and possibly a new segment leader. But consumers are often resistant to change, and some may not understand right away that the K5 is the Optima's replacement.