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European plant the key to Kia's expansion plans?

Kia Motors UK's last-minute decision to exhibit at the Birmingham motor show was taken to prove to dealers interested in joining the franchised network - and potential customers - that the company is developing “fresh and innovative” new products. New UK managing director Paul Williams says these products are vital for the brand to achieve its ambitious growth plans in Europe.

As part of Hyundai, Kia claims to be the ninth largest carmaker in the world. The Hyundai group wants to become the fifth largest by 2010, retailing 5m units - including 300,000 in Europe and 50,000 in the UK. Next year Kia expects to sell 18,000 in the UK, rising to “around 30,000” by 2004.

“It's an ambitious target, but we need ambitious targets,” says Williams.

Kia currently has 97 dealers but wants 150. Small groups are the main target, although the company is considering buy and leaseback schemes and operating its own dealers if necessary.

A European factory is a possibility - Williams points to America where, thanks to its own national car plant, sales have exploded in recent years. “It does need to be looked at - the group has an open mind,” he adds.

Kia already has a design focus targeted at European buyers via its European design centre.

The £18,000 Sorento, which goes on UK sale next year, offers a “snap shot of new Kia”, says Williams, and its design flair and integrity will be carried through to all future products.

“We believe the Sorento is an aspirational product that will underline our image as a sporty, youthful, value for money brand,” he adds.

But value for money does not mean cheap. “We need to develop this thinking in the dealer network - it's not a case of cutting people a deal. We are already price competitive so we no longer do residuals-damaging high discounts.”

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