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21 And Figuring It Out (A Story of Millennials, Generation Z and the Kia Stinger)


The license has long become something they just have, no biggie anymore, and the drink is, probably, something they’ve already had in excess but the drinking itself has become official and so it is celebrated. After all, who doesn’t love a good celebration? A toast to you, kid. Happy birthday.

You’re 21 now and you are figuring it out. The future, your future, is shining like a midday summer sun, sparkling off the very lake you and your friends would run full speed at and leap into, carefree and with a rebel yell. The open-ended-ness of everything that lies ahead on your path is, at times, almost too much to consider but do you remember all the brilliant ideas you had 5, 8, 10 years ago? They weren’t all put together, hell, neither were you, but there you were, earnest and full of heart at the dining room table on Thanksgiving, sharing your earnest thoughts on this and that with extended family, people who couldn’t help but still see and hear you through the prism of time captured forever in old holiday photo greeting cards — you were red of cheek, wide toothy grin, and bunny ears raised above your little sister’s head.

You don’t have the distance yet to forgive their dismissiveness, and it smarts still because you were sincere and your ideas and opinions were, while presented with a childlike exuberance, absolutely worthy of their time but to your older family members, you were but an excitable child. The disrespect was accidental but that does nothing to dull the pain.

Children process the world differently than adults. Problems are solvable in straighter lines and there’s two scoops of hope in every idea — why wouldn’t there be? Young people, by in large, know nothing of spectacular failure, production costs, profit margin, scalability, copyright law, regulatory red tape, angel investors and start-up capital – and why should they?

The many logical potential solutions to obvious flaws in the system of life in the world of a pre-tween or teen deserve to be heard by honest ears and better yet, to be implemented — ROI and bottom line be damned.

Adults, and I am hand-up-guilty here too, drag around with them a palette of boxes, each packed with doubt as to why that can’t, won’t, couldn’t, and probably will not work. Sadly, once you’ve lived a bit it becomes far easier to shout out the odds of failure then to sing the promise of success. The validity of grown-up doubts is not on trial here but the security checkpoints those doubts build are real and problematic for change to ever occur. We adults take to cloaking our hard-earned pessimism in a tarp woven together with threads of ‘personal experience’ as we rain on the parade of youthful idealism.

What, pre tell, does the poor perception of youthful ideation have to do with a Korean automaker? More than you’d imagine, I’d contest. See, 21 years ago Kia arrived on our shores something of a joke. That’s probably putting it too mildly. I was a young man who was just able to drive at that time and I remember what I thought of, and what people were saying about, Kia cars – the words were harsh and because this is a family program, probably shouldn’t be repeated here. The national perception of Kia here in the States was about as terrible as a brand dare not hope for; ‘cheap cars’, ‘poorly made’, and ‘boring design’ would have been trotted out often and, it must be said, fairly, and many grown-ups, still in the futuristic year of 2017, cling to those old doubts about Kia cars.

The thing is, things have changed dramatically over the past half-decade.

Much like the many insightful thoughts of young people that deserve respect, perception and history are difficult obstacles to hurdle but least Kia has a marketing department and a killer design team; kids are left to fight their negative perception without the benefit of ad campaigns and cool hip hop hamsters. Both parties, kids and Kia alike, are in a battle to convince cynical, doubt-riddled adults of their class, worth, quality, bright ideas and overall brilliance after more than a decade of being an afterthought at the Thanksgiving table and in the driveway.

During her winter break from college, my 18-year-old niece, a bright young woman filled with bold viewpoints and deep convictions, but who’s still struggling for grown-up acceptance of her own ideas, said to the family, “aren’t Kia cars those cheap ones?”

Um, hello, nice to meet you, I’m your Uncle Jeff who just happily dumped his Forester for a gorgeous brand new $44,000 Kia Sorento!! Cheap, poor and boring are not applicable words in the Kia description vernacular in 2017 and yet, AND YET, even a child born 3 years after Kia’s passport was stamped by U.S. border patrol in California is capable of holding this misguided, outdated opinion.

Because first (and second, third, fourth…) impressions are a bitch to shake off, Kia has been taking relative baby steps in their uphill battle to sell people on the truth that long gone are the days of poorly made, boring-looking, cheap cars, but there’s still work to be done. [cut to every tween and teen nodding].

The Kia Soul and those rad hamsters have delivered an element of hipster cool to the Kia brand, Lebron James added his stamp of approval to the classy K900, and the 7-passenger Sorento, our family car, is the dictionary definition of SUV refinement, while the Optima Hybrid and forthcoming Kia Niro are positioning Kia as a force in the smart tech, eco-friendly, and fuel efficiency sides of the car business.

The most seismic shift in perception however just happened on a freezing night in the birthplace and spiritual home of the American automobile.

Kia Stinger GT

Tonight in Detroit, before the official start of NAIAS 2017, Kia gathered media together in an abandoned warehouse a few miles from Cobo Hall to shatter the past into a million indistinguishable pieces. When Kia threw the covers off of their first GT, the Kia Stinger, a glistening, eye-popping, jaw-dropping, audible-gasp-inducing sports car, they eschewed years of tiny steps for one giant leap in proving once and for all, and most emphatically, that the Kia brand is one synonymous with superior design, build and drivability. The Stinger promises to revolutionize the way all people, teens and college student nieces included, perceive Kia.

Kia Stinger GT

Kids, there’s a lesson here for you.

Kia realized at some point several years ago that they were not on the right path, that what they were doing, how they were doing it and ultimately what they were selling to consumers didn’t jive with the car company they aspired to be and so from that moment they didn’t stop, and still haven’t pressed down on the brakes, on evolving, daring, and redrawing the line in front of them, the lines that box us all in.

They’ve challenged themselves as a corporation to be something far better than they were and are now making it damn near impossible for anyone to ever lay those tired perceptions down at their feet again. You can do the same on a personal level because Kia has provided you with the template: never stop wanting, and taking the forward facing steps, to be better, smarter, and more innovative in your thoughts and ideas. Never stop showing, with heart and with sincerity, that you are growing, becoming more well-rounded and that you possess a wisdom and a desire beyond your years.

Eventually, the doubtful adults in your life will not be able to deny you the respect you so rightly deserve. And I think we all could and should raise a toast to that.

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