2020 Kia Telluride

The Kia Telluride is named after a town in Colorado, built in Georgia and pictured here in California. (Courtesy photo)

Locals’ eyelids lifted a bit during the second half of a soporific Super Bowl, when a Kia ad about its Georgia plant kept showing a burly SUV festooned with the name “Telluride” in capital block letters.

Though the ad primarily demonstrated how Kia has transformed downtrodden West Point, Georgia, and was narrated by a wistful local boy, it also portrayed “this thing we’ve assembled,” which is Kia’s largest SUV yet, the 291-horsepower, 8-passenger Telluride.  

The unusually long — 1 minute and 40 seconds — commercial cost $15 million to air during the Super Bowl, and caused quite a hubbub both nationally and locally.

Nationally, critics both praised and jeered the ad’s tearjerker approach, while cynics pointed out the absurdity of driving through deep water, as the Telluride is portrayed doing. Neither the Telluride nor any stock vehicle can do this without stalling. Viewers could barely discern the accompanying fine print that read: “DO NOT ATTEMPT. Water stunt performed with aftermarket snorkel. Professional driver on closed course.”

Local viewers expressed a range of emotions upon seeing their town’s name used by a South Korean car manufacturer. “Best entertainment in Super Bowl … Kia Telluride,” wrote Jill Burchmore on Facebook.  

The fact the ad focused on West Point but was sorta kinda about the Telluride SUV struck Kathryne Grozelle as “a tad confusing.”

Several other Telluriders posted various degrees of disgust at being appropriated like fellow ski destinations have been in the past with the Chevy Tahoe, Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen.

“That was gross,” wrote Brenda Favazzo on Facebook. “That sucked” chimed in Josh Borof, adding, “Leave us alone!” Opined Ryan O’Hara: “Not interested!! Dumbest name ever!”

Meanwhile, Duke Richey wondered if the Telluride took after its irie namesake and “came with a built-in vaporizer.” David Eckman hoped “the town is at least getting royalties so that they can pay to fix the potholes.”

The town is definitely not getting royalties. As Michael Martelon, president and CEO of the Telluride Tourism Board, pointed out, “You can’t trademark Telluride or any geographical location. It is what it is, and that’s a South Korean car manufacturer attempting to leverage a North American passion brand.”

Since Sunday, Martelon said, the tourism board has been accused of involvement with the name.

“It has nothing to do with our destination itself,” he insisted, “but one could suggest that our geologic wonder, our community’s passion and our efforts in brand-building played a part in its name.”

Martelon conceded that “in terms of name recognition, someone just spent $15 million to put our name on national television.” He added, “I don’t have much of a feeling about it. It’s just another touchpoint, and not something that really changes our day. Kia is selling a consumer product good and we’re selling an experience.”

James Hope, national manager of product communications for Kia Motors America, said the Telluride was the first Kia designed for the U.S. in its Irvine, California, engineering center and is more rugged than the midsize Sorento SUV.

In an interview with the Daily Planet Tuesday, Hope said the appellation Telluride was pitted against other American mountain towns. “The lead exterior designer, Kurt Kahl, said the basic idea was to design an SUV whose purpose would be driving to a ski resort, that the owners of this car would need to haul their friends and all their gear to the mountains, and would need 4WD to handle the conditions.

“He looked at a map of ski resorts to research names, and he talked to a cousin who lives in Crested Butte. That’s how he came across Telluride, which he thought was a great fit. The name ‘Telluride’ has strong consonants, and he loved the fact that the word ‘ride’ is part of it.”

Moreover, Hope said, the ski resort’s fine reviews in upscale travel magazines and town’s famous film festival “mean the name Telluride has a premium and luxury feel to it. Kurt thought it was a great fit” for the vehicle, whose various iterations cost from $32,735 to $47,000.

While the nearest Kia dealerships to Telluride are in Durango (114 miles away) and Grand Junction (120 miles), Hope said locals will likely see the SUVs prowling Telluride streets in mid-March, when Kia plans to introduce the car to auto journalists at a special preview in Gateway: “You may see a bunch of them driving around when we come to Telluride for lunch.”