As far as unfortunate car names go, Kia Motors Corp. is far from the worst offender. But its K9 flagship luxury sedan gained two zeros in the U.S. market, suggesting it’s keen to avoid featuring again.
It’s not the first time that the South Korean auto maker has renamed a vehicle for an overseas market. Like other Korean auto makers, Kia often assigns different names when launching models overseas, but they’re usually fancy words such as “Forte” and “Soul,” rather than multiples of a number.
To address the awkward question, we asked Kia whether it wanted to avoid its showcase vehicle sounding to Americans like, erm… a dog.
“We have to think about what brand we will use for the car we launch depending on the region,” said Michael Choo, a Kia spokesman. “Language is a consideration when we launch a car overseas.”
Mr. Choo said Kia’s sampling of English-speaking foreigners showed that not all of them associated the name K9 with canine. Even so, the South Korean company renamed the sedan the K900 at its U.S. launch at the Los Angeles Auto Show last week.
James Hope, a product communications manager at Kia Motors America, added that the company felt it was best to keep a numerical name for the U.S. market.
“When looking at the segment, we found current owners and prospective buyers in the U.S. are accustomed to the use of alphanumeric names from European auto makers,” he said.
In other overseas markets such as the Middle East and some European countries, the K9 luxury sedan has been renamed the Quoris, a word coined by Kia based on the words “core” and “quality.” The Korean auto maker’s smaller sedans–the K5 and the K7–are called the Optima and the Cadenza, respectively, overseas.
Years ago, when Kia began exporting its compact car “Pride” to the U.S. through Ford Motor Co., it changed the name to “Festiva.”
Kia’s Mr. Choo said the name change was because of a licensing agreement under which Kia built the compact car for Ford in an original-equipment-manufacture deal.
But some have said the name “Pride” is sometimes reminiscent of gay pride, an expression used to refer to activists’ positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Sister company Hyundai Motor Co. named its popular midsize Sonata models the Sonata, the Sonata 2, and the Sonata 3, based on the year of manufacture. But when it exported the car to the American market, it called all of them Sonata, creating some confusion over which car was which.
Hyundai said it didn’t want owners of older Sonatas in the U.S. to feel inferior to those driving newer models.
In the meantime, Kia’s naming predicament apparently doesn’t stop at just its cars. Some have joked that its name is an acronym for “killed in action.”
Kia says it’s not concerned about that given that its name is now widely known in the global auto market.