Kia, Europe's fastest-growing brand, is abandoning the cheap car segment, Automotive News Europe said.

The move is part of Hyundai-Kia's ambition to become one of the top five global players by 2010. Kia will introduce 16 new products over the next three years. But the company won't compete at the bottom of the market any more.

"We feel that there is no future in being the cheapest product," said Kia Motors Europe vice president Jean-Charles Lievens. He cited Skoda and Audi as examples of companies that have managed to shift to a more upscale image. In future, Kia wants to be perceived as a "younger, friendly and sporty" carmaker, while Hyundai will remain the mainstream brand.

Kia aims to more than triple European sales to 300,000 in 2005 from 90,000 in 2002. Currently, Kia produces 1.2 million cars annually. Hyundai produces 2.1 million cars.

By 2007, Hyundai-Kia wants to reach 4.2 million units and another million by 2010. The cars will come from Korea, but also from North America, China, India and an eastern European plant likely to be built in Slovakia or Poland.