For James Bell, director of corporate communications of Kia Motors America Inc., the 2018 Kia Stinger GT marks another leap forward by the company not only in performance but also in branding.
The GT stands for Grand Turismo, which luxury mark Maserati defines as “the irresistible allure of the true Italian style, inspired by exhilarating performance born from competition.”
Then you have the Maserati price tag: starting at $134,300.
For a quarter of the price, Kia has entered the ring with its Stinger GT.
“This is incredibly important for the Kia brand,” Mr. Bell told Global Atlanta after attending the Atlanta International Auto Show in March. “It’s an engine for change.”
The “gran turismo” concept has been traced back to the early 1950s, most directly to the 1951 introduction of the Lancia Aurelia B20 GT — and the term has been applied generally to performance and luxury automobiles capable of high speed and long-distance driving.
For Kia 1951 harks back to its origins when it became famous in Korea for manufacturing the country’s first domestic bicycles. It wasn’t until 1994 that the first Kia-branded vehicles were sold in the United States where the company successfully competed with its low-price models such as the Sephia.
Those days are obviously long gone, and Georgia has benefited with the development of the Kia Motors Manufacturing plant in West Point, its first North American automobile manufacturing plant and where its Optima and Sorento models are made.
“Every time someone sees an Optima or a Sorento they should think of the Georgia flag,” according to Mr. Bell. The Georgia Department of Economic Development certainly agrees having awarded Kia with its inaugural Georgia Automotive Company of the Year Award in 2016 for its impact on the local economy and its community involvement.
Mr. Bell, whose office is in Irvine, Calif., couldn’t pass up the Atlanta International Auto Show so he could mix and mingle with prospective buyers who wanted to “kick the tires.” Their reactions to the Stinger fulfilled his expectations, he said: “A good idea and good design gets its own energy.”
The Kia GT made its debut at the 2011 Frankfurt auto show in Germany. “Few and far between are cars that survive the bureaucracy-filled odyssey from show stand to showroom without suffering character-killing dilution,” wrote one enthusiastic professional reviewer of the unveiling of the final product.
In hopes that the Stinger would draw such reviews, Kia has spent more than a decade stockpiling high-priced talent from around Europe to make its mark. Among this team is Peter Schreyer, Kia’s chief designer who came from illustrious careers at Audi and Volkswagen.
Also in the mix has been Albert Biermann, Kia’s head of high-performance development, whose comments about the Stinger are often quoted: “I think for the Kia brand, the Stinger is like a special event. Because nobody expected such a car, not just the way it looks but also the way it drives. It’s a wholly different animal.”
Mr. Biermann was hired away from BMW, where he had served as the architect for many of the company’s most respected performance cars including the BMW M series.
Since the Stinger was designed at Kia’s European design center in Frankfurt by a German designer and a German engineer, it’s not surprising that its got a certain amount of Teutonic style or as one reviewer put it, “It’s a Korean car with a heavy dose of Teutonic DNA.”
Mr. Bell heartily agrees, explaining that the Germans had to curb some of their aggressive reactions when dealing with their equally hardheaded Korean counterparts. “Let’s try it this way and then we’ll try it on the track,” they would suggest, he added.
Mr. Schreyer has been praising the Stinger’s design at car shows throughout Europe. As if getting ready for the Paris show in October he is quoted to have said:
“A gran turismo is a car for spirited, long-distance driving. A car to whisk you at high speed from Paris to the south of France for the weekend in effortless style.”
Mr. Bell’s parting was briefer but equally enthusiastic. “The car is a star,” he said in farewell.