The Hyundai-Kia automotive conglomerate is South Korea's leading force in the industry, and recently became the fifth-largest carmaker in the world. In the U.S., Hyundai and Kia have to date targeted very similar markets with their cars, seeking to establish a foothold in the value segments where bottom dollar reigns and brand loyalty isn't as large a consideration. Now that the two brands are established, however, they are seeking to split their images in two directions, with Kia continuing down the value route and Hyundai eyeing luxury and sport markets.

The recent opening of its new U.S. design headquarters foreshadows the independent mission of the brand in the North American market. So far, no designs have issued from its halls, but with the model of several recent concepts in mind, plus the look of the company's recently revealed facelifts and updates, the basic path for the studio is well-lit.

Leading the charge of new and improved models is the recently launched Forte sedan, which will replace the Spectra in the U.S. and foreshadows some of Kia's upcoming styling themes with its edgier looks and crisp lines. Right on its heels, however, is the urban-boxy Soul, itself based on a very recent concept and expected to debut in production form at the Paris Motor Show in October. Already photos of the car have leaked, however, revealing the styling that will help Kia embark upon its differentiation process. Full specifications won't be known until it's revealed in Paris, but it is expected to eature a five-speed manual-shift-capable automatic and could be priced below $15,000, reports Automotive News.

The Optima sedan will get a renewal for 2009, including a slight bump in power to 175hp (130kW) and a slight increase in length, but despite some trim and fascia changes, the car will retain the same overall look. Expect a full redesign in 2011. The Amanti, Kia's large sedan will be rebuilt from the ground up that same year as it switches to Hyundai's FWD Azera platform. Spy photos of a Kia sedan on the Azera platform caught last month could hint at that car's final design.

Kia's recent reveal of the U.S. market Borrego indicates it is still going after the SUV market, as the full-size vehicle is otherwise an untimely product. Its V8 engine and body-on-frame design are automotive artifacts by many makers' standards, but the company hopes to leverage the older technology wrapped in a new look to provide an affordable full-size entry. Priced at $26,995, they appear to be off to a good start. The Sportage, recently refreshed for 2009, will be the technology-friendly mid-size SUV aimed at the younger generation. Like many of Kia's other offerings, it is expected to get a complete redesign in 2011.

The Sorento, on the other hand, will be all-new when it starts production next year as a 2010 model. Converting from body-on-frame to unibody construction will modernize its appearance and handling, pushing it away from its truck-like demeanor and more toward car-like crossover status. The Sorento will be the inaugural production run for the company's new West Point, Georgia plant, where Kia will also build a new transmission that could be shared with Hyundai.

The Kue crossover concept, shown last year at the NAIAS show, contains the essence of Kia's future design flavor, but it has no solid plans for production of its own. With a 4.6L supercharged V8 laying down 400hp (298kW), all one has to do is look to the price of oil to figure out why. Recent spy-shots of the Kia Cee'd Plus MPV, which likely won't see North American sales, indicate the direction Kia is taking in Europe and elsewhere for a multi-functional but efficient design.

2008 Kia Koup Concept