Kia Motors Corp.'s hiring of Karim Habib as its design chief is a signal that the Korean automaker wants to continue to elevate its stature in the market.
Kia on Friday named Habib, a former executive at Infiniti, a senior vice president, heading Kia's design center and presiding over the look of its vehicles.
Habib, 49, will join Kia at the start of October and will be based at Kia's global design headquarters in Namyang, Korea, the company said Friday in a statement. He will report to Luc Donckerwolke, chief design officer for Hyundai Motor Group, who also supervises Kia design.
"Kia is a growing, ambitious brand on a determined path toward electrification and mobility innovation," Habib said in a statement. "I am thrilled to be a part of this transformation to strengthen the Kia brand further into the future of the automotive industry, which promises to be full of challenges and opportunities."
Once a cheap and quirky cousin to the Hyundai brand, Kia has improved its quality and expanded its lineup. Now with an array of crossovers, including the three-row Telluride, U.S. sales gained 5 percent this year through August including a 13 percent jump last month.
Habib's hire is a sign that Kia wants to project a more premium image, drawing on his design background at upscale brands including Infiniti and BMW, said Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor at Kelley Blue Book.
Kia is building momentum with the launch of recent "high-style" vehicles, including the Telluride and the Stinger sport sedan, DeLorenzo told Automotive News, and Habib's influence could advance Kia's cachet.
He said he anticipates that Habib will bring more expression to Kia's interior designs as well as the sheet metal.
Additionally, Kia offers more vehicles in more segments than Infiniti does, as well as a clearer future vision and potential white space opportunities to launch new vehicles, DeLorenzo said.
"From a designer's perspective, (Kia is) probably a really great place to be going right now, because you'll have such a broad product portfolio to oversee," he said.
Nissan Motor Co. said last month that Habib — a Lebanese-born Canadian who joined Infiniti in July 2017 — was leaving "to pursue other opportunities." Taisuke Nakamura was named Infiniti's global design chief.
Said Donckerwolke: "We highly appreciate Karim's talent and experience. He is joining Kia at a crucial moment to project the brand into the future of mobility and to reinforce the young-spirited and motivated design team which has won numerous international design awards."
Philip Nussel and Lindsay VanHulle contributed to this report.