Founded in 1944, Kia began its existence making steel tubing and bicycle parts. This led to the manufacturing of Korea's first domestically produced bicycle in the early 1950s, which then led to the first motor scooter, the C100. In 1952, Kia changed its name from Kyungsung Precision Industry, and it started building motorcycles in 1957, followed by three-wheeled trucks in 1962 and finally cars in 1974. The company opened the Sohari Plant, Korea's first integrated automotive assembly plant in 1973. The company then started to manufacture the first internal combustion gasoline engine in Korea, and soon thereafter the country's first domestically produced passenger vehicle, the Brisa. Toward the end of the 1970s, Kia's technology was used to manufacture vehicles such as the Fiat 132 and the Peugeot 604.
Kia in America
Starting in 1986, Kia partnered with U.S. auto giant Ford and began producing vehicles derived from another Ford auto partner, Mazda. These models were sold domestically in Korea, as well as in other countries. In 1987, the Kia Pride, which was based on the Mazda 121, was sold in the U.S. and Australia as the Ford Festiva. The Kia Avella became the Ford Aspire upon reaching the American market.
Kia began selling cars under its own name in the U.S. market in 1992, beginning with the Sephia. Initially available from four dealerships in Portland, Ore., the company grew its network one region at a time. The next vehicle was the Sportage, an entry into the popular SUV market. But, in 1997, further plans to expand were hampered by a bankruptcy filing, which resulted from funding pressures created by the Asian Financial Crisis. Post-bankruptcy, Hyundai acquired a 51 percent share of Kia Motors by outbidding the Ford Motor Company. Subsequent divestments have reduced Hyundai's shares to less than 50 percent of Kia Motors' holdings.
After the union with Hyundai, Kia expanded into the European market with production in Germany. Making right- and left-hand drive versions of the Sportage for different countries. By 2009, Kia had established its name in Britain and continued to expand into other areas.
In 2010, Kia opened a plant in Georgia, marking the start of U.S.-based production. The move came after 15 straight years of market share increase, despite filing bankruptcy and takeover attempts. This impressive feat is indicative of a bright future for the one time bicycle maker.
Lately, Kia's fortunes have continued to improve as the merger with Hyundai provides continued benefits. Overall refinement and build quality, which were once points of complaint, have improved noticeably. Another previously perceived weak point was reliability, which also improved. The company instituted a substantial warranty program, which caused a real increase in consumer confidence.
All this means that Kia now has a full lineup of coupes, crossovers, commercial vehicles, and sedans that are affordable, well-made and reliable. The brand promotes great value and performance while retaining sporty characteristics.
The company boasts a current lineup of 16 concept cars, thereby backing its claim that design is the most important facet of future endeavors. That's not to say that this Marque will stray too far away from its roots. Since the beginning, Kia emphasized affordable and well-equipped vehicles that are priced below competing models. The company managed to grow while keeping value a priority and not losing sight of the importance of technology and sportiness.
Starting in 2008, fuel-efficient electric hybrids were added to the Kia lineup. These include Soul Hybrid, Cee'd Hybrid, Ray plug-in Hybrid, and Spectra. In addition, Kia offers several commercial vehicles including the K4000s, AM928, and Granbird. The company now offers a full line of passenger cars, SUVs, and vans for just about every need, style, and taste.
The company's new emphasis for future growth is to focus on design. By hiring award winning designers and vowing to make the look of Kia vehicles more distinctive, it sets a direction for future moves. One of the new designers noted that when one sees a Kia on the road, it is impossible to tell if it's a Japanese car or a Korean car. Making sure that people can tell that the vehicle is a Kia at first sight is now a primary focus.