Kia COO Michael Sprague leaving company


Under Sprague, pictured at the 2017 Detroit auto show, Kia made a transition from a strictly value-oriented brand to a fuller U.S. lineup that includes a more stylish mix of luxury, sporty and youth-oriented models. It also topped the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study for two consecutive years. Photo credit: REUTERS

UPDATED: 4/6/18 11:47 am ET

Michael Sprague, the former Ford executive who notched a steady series of promotions in nearly a decade at Kia Motors America, is leaving the Korean automaker.

Sprague, 52, Kia’s COO since 2015, will step down April 17, Kia said in a statement Thursday. No successor has been appointed.

Sprague joined Kia as vice president of marketing in 2008 after leading marketing for Ford’s Lincoln and Mercury brands. He rose to Kia’s top U.S. sales post in 2014 following the departure of Tom Loveless and a year later was named COO.

Over Sprague’s decade at Kia, the automaker made a transition from a strictly value-oriented brand to a fuller lineup that includes a more stylish mix of luxury, sporty and youth-oriented models. It has also topped the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study for two consecutive years under Sprague.

New vehicle debuts under his watch include the boxy Soul subcompact and hybrid Niro crossover, along with the sporty Stinger sedan. Kia designers have applied cues from the Stinger into other vehicles in the lineup.

Kia Motors America COO Michael Sprague, left, greets John Nguyen of Winn Auto Group in Newark, Calif., at the Kia make meeting in Las Vegas last month. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

Although Kia lacked the big marketing budget of competitors, the brand made professional sports, and the Super Bowl specifically, critical pieces of its ad strategy during Sprague’s tenure. Over the years, it turned to a series of celebrities such as rocker Steven Tyler, actors Pierce Brosnan and Christopher Walken, along with comedian Melissa McCarthy to add spark to its commercials.

“We’re a 3.7 percent market share player. There’s 31 automotive brands, plus or minus a few. Over 300 different models that consumers can choose from,” Sprague told Automotive News during the New York auto show. “There’s one day of the year that 100 million-plus people are sitting around watching something in real time. What a way for a brand like ours to try to capture some of that attention.”

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