The history of the Kia Motors Corporation demonstrates the innovation that is at the heart of this company.
First Run from 1944 to 1981
A start-up company, Kyungsung Precision Industry, started making steel tubing and bike parts by hand in 1944. By 1951, the company was building and selling complete bicycles.
The company changed its name to Kia in 1952. The rough translation is “rising out of or to come up out of Asia”. The company expanded its product line in 1957 to include motorcycle manufacturing. Light trucks followed in 1962 and cars in 1974.
Through the late 1970s, Kia’s car manufacturing focused on the Brisa line of cars. Built on the 62 PS 1-liter Mazda engine, this line of cars were small and compact, used mainly in South Korea and in other parts of Asia. Production stopped in 1981, when the South Korean government forced industry consolidation which left Kia in the light truck market only.
Second Run from 1986 to 1997
Production resumed again in 1986 when Kia entered into a partnership with the Ford Motor Company. The company produced several Mazda-based vehicles for sale in South Korea and abroad. An example of this was the Kia Pride, sold in the American market under the name of the Ford Festiva.
Kia Motors America incorporated in the United States in 1992. This marked Kia’s direct entry into the American market. In 1994, four dealerships opened in Oregon featuring the Sephia and later, the Sportage. By 1995, there were over 100 dealerships in
over 30 states. That year the company sold almost 25,000 vehicles in the United States.
Things were going well for Kia until the Asian financial crisis began which lead the company to file bankruptcy in 1997. The next year, Hyundai Motor Company gained majority ownership of Kia and took the company in new directions.
Current Run from 1998 to Today
Under the guidance of Hyundai, throughout the early 2000s, Kia began offering more and more models in the North American market.
Kia hired Chief Design Officer, Peter Schreyer, in 2006 to lead the way in renewing and updating the look of the Kia line of cars. One of his first innovations was introducing the now famous corporate grille known as the Kia Tiger Nose. The redesign was focused on making Kia recognizable without anyone seeing the logo or name.
Today, the Kia vehicle lineup has made its mark on the global marketplace. Their current models reflect the company’s evolution from bike manufacturing in the 1940s to being a major car manufacturer on the world market today:
- The Kia Forte is the current generation of compact sedans in Kia’s lineup. It replaced the Kia Cerato in 2008.
- The Kia Optima came on the market in 2000 and stands as the line’s mid-sized four-door sedan. A hybrid version is available in the North American market.
- The Kia Rio has undergone a couple of redesigns since it was introduced in 2002. It was a direct replacement for two other subcompacts: the Pride and the Avella.
- Kia’s Soul hit the North American market in 2010. It fits into the compact MPV category nicely.
- The Kia Sorento is the company’s mid-sized SUV offering in the U.S. Introduced in 2002, this vehicle will introduce a redesign in 2014.
- The company introduced the Kia Sportage to the North America in 1995, making it the longest running model offered by Kia in this market.
- The Kia Sedona is the company’s entry in the minivan class of vehicles. Introduced to North America in 1998, the Sedona is now on its second generation.
- In 2013, Kia introduced the Kia Cadenza to the U.S. market. This luxury sedan replaces the Optima as the brand’s flagship model.