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Kia pushes U.S. expansion as market-share gain leads industry

Kia Motors Corp., South Korea’s second-largest automaker, announced plans this week to raise output at its Georgia plant by 20 percent, underscoring the U.S. industry’s biggest market-share gain this year.

Kia, an affiliate of Hyundai Motor Co., raised its U.S. share 0.8 percentage point to 3.8 percent through May, topping gains of 0.7 point for General Motors Co. and 0.6 point for Hyundai, according to Autodata Corp. 

The Seoul-based company’s sales volume has climbed 45 percent this year, the fastest pace among the 10 largest automakers in the U.S.

“It’s both skill and luck,” said Ed Kim, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, California. “Their latest round of products is very good. There is also the circumstance that competitors like Honda and Toyota don’t have as much to sell. That’s allowing Kia to get a little more attention.”

Kia, Hyundai, GM and Ford Motor Co. are among those that have benefited in sales of small and midsize cars as Japan’s March 11 earthquake slowed production for Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Kia also contends that it has won over customers in those categories with compelling designs and fuel efficiency. 

“In what has been a very vanilla, commodity-driven space, we’re offering a product that gets good fuel economy and is easy on the eyes,” Tom Loveless, Kia’s vice president of U.S. sales, said in an interview yesterday. The midsize Optima sedan and compact Soul wagon are standouts in their segments, he said.