Cars for Comic Book Geeks? Curious Auto-Selling Strategies from Kia, Toyota

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JOEL SAGET / AFP / Getty Images

Visitors look at cars displayed on the stand of South Korean carmaker Kia, on Sept. 28, 2012.

It’s unlikely that Batman or Bruce Wayne would ever be seen driving a Kia. The practical, commuter brand just wouldn’t be rugged (or bulletproof) enough to suit Batman’s crime-fighting activities, and Kia’s reputation for affordability wouldn’t be a match for Wayne’s billionaire playboy mystique. Nonetheless, Kia will soon be offering the public a chance to buy a Batmobile of sorts: an Optima SX Limited featuring Batman graphics and a bat symbol on the grille. Models will be available in Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman themes as well.

In total, eight Justice League-themed Kias will be available, featuring the characters above, as well as The Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, and one decorated will all of the superheroes.

The special designs are available thanks to a partnership of Kia and DC Entertainment, the comic book publisher that brings us the Justice League. In addition to generating attention among comic book nerds everywhere, the promotion will help raise awareness and money for a campaign to fight hunger in the Horn of Africa called “We Can Be Heroes.”

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Different superhero-themed models will be unveiled over the next 10 months, starting with the Batman Optima SX, which was unveiled at the New York Comic Con in early October. It may not be the Batmobile, but it does have 20-inch black wheels, yellow-accented black leather and suede interior, and bat symbols on the side of the car, in the grille, and even stamped into the headlights. There are even some bat-symbol throwing stars stocked in the center console. Kia says that the designs—created with the help of legendary comic book artist Jim Lee—and the pairings of car model and superhero were carefully thought out:

Each core member of the Justice League line-up–Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg – has been matched to a Kia vehicle based on key attributes and character traits to create custom, one-of-a-kind rides to be unveiled over the next ten months at major auto shows and comic-cons across the U.S.

Kia hasn’t announced pricing or exactly which model would go with which character, but presumably The Flash would be featured on fastest Kia model (not sure what that would be—Kia isn’t known for sports cars), the “girliest” car would get Wonder Woman, and so on.

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And who are the customers Kia is trying to attract with such vehicles? Like many of the latest superhero movies, kids aren’t really the core audience. “Using comic book characters is not so much a play for younger buyers,” Kia spokesman Scott McKee told WardsAuto. “It speaks to people who might have read comic books 30, or even 40 years ago.”

Kia isn’t the only automaker trying to use odd, outside-the-box strategies to sell cars. While Kia is going after the mostly male breed of diehard comic book fans, Toyota recently targeted the mostly female viewers of HSN, the jewelry-and-clothing-hawking channel formerly known as the Home Shopping Network.

By booking three one-hour blocks of time on HSN, Toyota became the first automaker ever featured on the channel. HSN’s audience is 90% female, and because the Toyota sessions were on a Sunday—when football is on—viewership was even more likely than normal to skew woman. The segments were basically an info session about Toyota’s hybrid cars, with frequent repetition of gas mileage numbers:

“A lot of our research shows people don’t understand how hybrid technology works,” says Ed Laukes, a Toyota vice president.

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Viewers couldn’t buy cars via HSN. Instead, they were asked to call in for product information, as well as free coffee mugs. By doing so, consumers would qualify for credits of $1,000 that could be used for gas or HSN purchases if they actually wound up buying a Toyota.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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