South Korean carmaker Kia wants more and better dealers to maintain its momentum as the fastest growing automotive brand in Europe, Automotive News Europe said.

Kia’s sales surged 52.8% to 62,126 units in the first six months of this year. In 2002, Kia sold 82,000 units in Europe.

“Our objective is 125,000 units this year, with growth to 300,000 units in 2005,” said Jean-Charles Lievens, vice president of Kia Motors Europe. Lievens, who joined Kia in April 2002, was previously commercial director for Toyota Motor Europe.

Kia has seen sales increases as high as 50% in some European markets this year but wants to improve its European dealer network to support its sales growth. Today, Kia has 1,200 contract partners with 1,400 outlets in Europe, including the Czech Republic and Hungary.

“The number of outlets will increase to 1,800 in 2005,” said Lievens. “We will give priority to existing partners who will open extra satellites.”

But the profile of Kia dealerships will have to change as well, Lievens added. “We want to get rid of our cheap, discount image,” he said.

Kia is working hard on improving its profile and has sponsored major tennis tournaments such as the Davis Cup. “We are now becoming a mainstream player,” Lievens said. “We are also expecting to enjoy the full benefits of the new block exemption regulations. We will try to keep our existing dealers on board but only if they are able to apply our new standards.”

Lievens said multi-brand dealerships would help Kia. A growing number of Kia dealers also represent Opel, Fiat, Seat and Mitsubishi.

“But we do not want to cannibalise sales within our own group and are trying not to twin with Hyundai dealers,” Lievens added. Hyundai took over Kia in 1998.

Kia will also offer a full model line-up in the near future. In September, it will launch a compact sport-utility, followed by a four-door sedan for the lower-medium segment in January 2004 and a new mini in April 2004.

“We will offer diesels of 1.5- and 2.0-litre capacities as well,” Lievens said, “and we plan to launch two new supermini models in 2005.”

Within Kia’s current model lineup, the Sorento sport-utility is selling better than expected. “We have adjusted our original target of 25,000-30,000 for the year upward to 35,000-40,000 units,” Lievens said.

But Kia’s latest addition, the luxury Opirus sedan, won’t play a major role.

“We wanted a premium car but demand for such models in Europe is only about 100,000 units a year,” Lievens said.

Kia is only expecting the Opirus to sell 1,500-1,800 units a year.