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Car and Driver: Kia U.S. Exec: Rear-Drive Sports Sedan and Telluride SUV Look Increasingly Likely

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Kia Novo concept

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At the Chicago auto show, Kia was one of the few brands making big news, showing with its 2016 Optima hybrid and plug-in hybrid, as well as its all-new Prius-fighter, the Niro hybrid. We sat down with Kia Motors America COO, Michael Sprague, to see what else Kia may be cookin’ up for next year and beyond.

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The most compelling subject of our conversation concerned the recent revelations by company insiders in Korea that Kia is planning to launch a small, rear-wheel-drive sport sedan that would represent a budget alternative to the ubiquitous BMW 3-series. Presumably, that vehicle would look something like the Novo concept (seen at top), a car that, come to think of it, looks an awful lot like a 3-series.

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Sprague claims that he was as surprised—and delighted—as the rest of us to learn of this. “Last week somebody in Korea said that, yes, there’s a rear-wheel-drive vehicle coming next year…someone close to the situation,” said Sprague. “We read the same article you did. We were like, ‘All right! Cool!’

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Kia Novo concept

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“It would be great for the brand,” Sprague continued. “The Soul has really been a halo for the brand in terms of that fun, funky coolness. The K900 has pushed us into the luxury space, and serves as a halo in that space. It would be great to have a sport sedan to really connect with the enthusiasts.”

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Kia does have a pretty good track record of producing its well-received concept cars. “If you look at the history of the brand, we use auto shows to introduce concept vehicles. We introduced a Soul concept and it came to market. We introduced the Niro concept and it came to market in a fashion very close to this. Our history is to introduce these concepts, gauge consumer and media feedback, and if it’s strong, let’s bring it to market. A couple years ago, we showed a rear-wheel-drive sports concept [the GT4 Stinger]. You may be able to link these two together.”

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Kia Telluride concept

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We also asked Mr. Sprague about the production prospects for the full-size Telluride SUV concept, which was unveiled at Detroit last month. While the three-row SUV is a little further out, it looks just as likely to appear, even without rumors from across the Pacific fueling the fire, and Sprague would like to have the big, Borrego-sized ute in the lineup yesterday.

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“I think it compliments where the brand is at today. The Borrego, by all accounts, was a great vehicle from a functionality standpoint and what it delivered from packaging and design; it was just launched at the absolute worst possible time. People were fleeing the [full-size SUV] market; gasoline was four or five bucks a gallon, and nobody wanted them…which is unfortunate because it’s still sold in other parts of the world.

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Kia Telluride concept

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“But the market has changed; gas prices are a buck/buck-fifty, people are looking for more space, for that ride height that they missed when they shifted back to sedans, and our customers that we’ve been attracting for the last few years are asking for it. They took a chance on the brand…customers are now saying ‘I love the experience I’ve had with the brand; I love my car; I bought a Sportage and I needed more space; I bought a Sorento, I needed something bigger; I’m at the point now where I need something even bigger. My kids are bigger; I have more stuff; I want to tow something; I want to go someplace. It’s just a natural progression of where the brand has evolved to.”

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But will it actually be produced? Sprague repeated what he said about the rear-drive sedan: “If we go back and look at our history of introducing concept vehicles and how they come to market, it looks pretty good. And if you look at the growth in those segments there’s still a lot left to go.”

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