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New MD targets consumer awareness at Kia

The new managing director of Kia Motors UK plans to build on the strong relationships with dealers founded by predecessor Paul Philpott.

Michael Cole is looking forward to meeting retail partners at a network meeting on October 1, when the facelifted Cee’d goes on sale. 

His first few weeks in the post have already included a comprehensive handover from Philpott, an introduction to the national dealer council and a visit to Kia’s headquarters and R&D facilities in Korea to meet its global management.

Like Philpott, Cole was a Toyota GB senior executive before being attracted to Kia. He began a career in motor retail at Ford dealerships with Lex Retail Group, Swan National Motors and Godfrey Davis. 

He’s pleased with dealer profitability – return on sale was typically around 2.5% at the half-year point. Dealers are making good profits from new car sales, he said, but service absorption is below average. Absorption and customer retention are subjects he will tackle at the dealer meeting.

Medium-term, the greatest challenge for KMUK and its dealers will be building consumer awareness of the Kia brand. Cole tells the story of informing one friend recently about his move from Toyota, at which the friend mistook his new employer for Ikea. 

Cee’d, Soul and the next generation Sorento are evidence of its huge improvements in quality and design, but Cole agrees that Kia doesn’t feature on enough car buyers’ radar.

He said: “We don’t want to be a company that people buy from because it’s cheap. That’s not a sustainable position. Ask the question is a Kia today perceived as an aspirational choice of car and the answer is no from the vast majority of the British public. That’s the perception, not the reality. There is no doubt that the quality of our products is as high as it needs to be.”

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