The name Michael Cole is shared by a television actor, professional wrestling announcer and a prominent Southern California psychologist. Michael Cole, the recently named President of Kia Motors America, has some of the other Michael Cole traits — all intriguing.
The latter Michael Cole was named to his new position two weeks before the just concluding Los Angeles Auto Show, and he was ready.
A career automotive executive who previously worked for Toyota, Cole, 55, presented the new 2021 Kia Seltos under the show’s bright lights and theatrics and with the enthusiasm of an actor and showman.
After the pending subcompact crossover SUV’s unveiling, Cole, a native of England, was as serious as a psychologist, but forthright and humorous. He talked all things Kia in an interview in a quiet conference room overlooking a showroom of shiny new cars and trucks at the LA Convention Center.
Kia is on a several-year upswing. The 2020 Telluride was recently named the MotorTrend SUV of the year. A large banner touting the honor greeted car show was draped across the front entrance. The South Korean manufacturer received six 2019 awards from J.D. Power, the global survey and marketing firm.
Here’s part of my interview with Cole:
The Weekly Driver: The market is flooded with SUVs. You mentioned in the presentation, Kia knows it’s a crowded space. Where does the Seltos fit?
Michael Cole: We believe it’s the latest puzzle piece for Kia. We have been very strong in the SUV market, but what we didn’t have is an all-wheel-drive, entry-level SUV. The Seltos fills that void
The Weekly Driver: You named the vehicle after the Son of Hercules in Greek mythology. How did the name come about
M.C.: Choosing a name is a challenge when you’re selling a vehicle to nearly a global market. I won’t tell you some of the possible names, because with some of them we just had to laugh. With some of them, we said, “really, did someone think that was a good idea?” We went through a few rounds and finally everyone said, “that works.”
The Weekly Driver: Kia has catapulted itself in the industry. How and why has it occurred?
M.C.: It started with the 2011 Optima and the Sorento that came out at the same time. We’ve gone from strength to strength. We’re not only a brand that offers great value, but we offer quality, reliability, durability, incredible design and technology.
The Weekly Driver: There are still car buyers shunning South Korean manufacturers. Do you still feel like you have to win over the public?
M.C.: We see that more people are aware of Kia, but knowing about Kia is another thing. That’s the real job we have to do. When people experience Kia for the first time, there’s a sense of “Wow. I hadn’t had it on my consideration list before, but now that I’ve experienced it, this is something I am going to consider.”
The Weekly Driver: There are still car buyers who hate SUVs and would never buy one. But the segment is booming. Why do you think SUVs are so popular.
M.C.: It expresses their personalities or their lifestyles with a sense of adventure. That’s the emotional side, but there is a practical side. People want to carry lots of stuff. They like the high seating position. People like to look over the road.
Of course, what happens is that everyone is in SUVs, and that’s going to become harder. We have grown our product offering in SUVs, but we have stayed very loyal to the sedan market.
Some people still want a sedan. It’s a much smaller mix than five or 10 years ago. We want to keep offering a product in that segment of the market. Maybe at some point, we’ll see the trend reverse. People will say, “Everyone’s got an SUV, how can I differentiate my personality from everyone else.”
Listen to the complete interview with Michael Cole on The Weekly Driver Podcast