Image: Kia

Kia has now officially taken a serious shot at the usual European sports sedans with the Stinger GT. According to the reviews, the new Stinger is pretty impressive, but to truly make a dent in luxury market, Kia needs to look beyond the cars and fix their dealerships, which, for the most part, are, shall we say, not good.

Almost everyone has a Kia dealer story, and most of them recount a car buying experience that is less than ideal. As a car-buying consultant that brokers deals all over the country, every single day, I have quite a few Kia dealer stories, like the one about a soldier who was about to be deployed but couldn’t get a test drive without first telling them “how much he wanted to pay per month.”

According to a JD Power Sales Satisfaction Index Ranking, Kia sits below the industry average for mainstream brands, but even that study doesn’t tell the whole story.

Does every Kia dealer suck? Of course not, I’m sure there are quite a few that I have yet to encounter who understand that selling cars in 2017 is not like selling cars in 1997. In fact, there is one—just one—dealer in the New York metro area that I have worked with on a few occasions that gets it, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Here are four responses I’ve personally received from Kia dealers:

Me:

Hi, my name is Tom, and I am a consultant that is paid to locate vehicles and negotiate deals on behalf of a customer. I have someone in your area that would like to purchase an (insert Kia model here). Please email me an itemized out-the-door quote with all taxes and fees for (insert location here).

Response 1: 

I’m sorry sir we don’t send pricing to emails, when would you like to come in for a test drive?

Response 2 from an “internet sales manager”:

I would be happy to send you information but I don’t have a company email account.

Response 3:

Yeah I can help you out. How much do you want to pay per month?

Response 4:

I’m going to have to talk with my manager in order to get you pricing.

The last response is totally acceptable and common, but, after that, the quote often never comes, nor a follow-up phone call. Other dealers will give me quotes, and then I have to explain to them that just using the manufacturer rebates as the only discount is not acceptable, or I have to pull teeth to get them to back out over-priced accessory packages.

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It’s important to examine exactly why so many Kia dealers are stuck in the past when it comes to selling cars. We all remember Kias when they first hit the scene. They were the car you bought because you wanted something new but couldn’t afford a Honda or Toyota.

Kia, like its Hyundai sibling, made a play by attracting mostly credit-challenged customers who were desperate to get a new car.

Customers that are desperate and uneducated about the ins-and-outs of car buying are easy targets for shady practices. Many Kia dealers got into the habit of taking advantage of their target audience and have not adapted as the lineup grew from a “value brand” to appeal to more mainstream buyers. And now Kia is looking to move upmarket with the Stinger GT with a fully loaded model topping out at over $50,000. However, the brand doesn’t appear to have a sales strategy in order to court that type of buyer.

Hyundai faced a similar problem with the launch of the Genesis and Equus luxury sedans. Whether Hyundai would admit it or not, they seemed acutely aware that their dealer experience at the time was not going to be acceptable to your typical luxury car buyer. That is why Hyundai adopted a concierge-style buying service for the Equus that allowed a potential buyer to test drive and buy the flagship sedan without ever having go to a dealership.

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Of course, this concierge program didn’t help move Equus models, nor did it apply to the Genesis sedans. But what I noticed in the years since the launch of the first generation Genesis is an overall shift on how Hyundai dealers do business. While there are still some that are stuck doing things the “old way,” most Hyundai stores are developing an understanding that they need to appeal to a different class of buyer if they expect to land a sale. Now Hyundai is poised to use the Genesis brand into a lineup that can slice some market share from the other luxury automakers.

Despite the fact that the Kia execs call their Stinger GT a “game changer,” corporate needs to address their dealer problem, and it can’t just be specialized salespeople for the Stinger GT. It is going to take a brand-wide philosophical shift. If a customer is soured on their experience buying a Soul or an Optima, they will never come back to buy a Kia luxury car.