Where is Kia made and are they worth buying?
I was surprised to see how many people ask where is Kia made. I thought the answer would be obvious. Korea, right? Being the intrepid researcher, I wanted to find a definitive answer. I wanted the facts. What I uncovered, was that I had no idea about this South Korean motor company and its history. This article is going to share with you what I discovered about Kia and where these cars are made.
Through the second half of the 1990s, I started noticing Kia cars and trucks on the road. At the time, new vehicle brands from South East Asia were popping up everywhere. I naturally assumed Kia was one of these new companies, cashing in on the new globalized market. Like so many, I thought Kia cars were cheap junk. It seemed as though some guys from a factory in Korea took a shopping cart to the bargain basement of established vehicle manufacturers and picked out components from discontinued models. Then, kind of pieced them together into a cheap car, with outdated technology, in a haphazard manner. In a sense, this is what they did. But there’s much more to the Kia story than this.
Where is Kia made?
Today, Kia Motors Corporation has its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. After Hyundai, Kia is the second largest motor vehicle manufacturer in South Korea. While the Majority of Kia cars are made in South Korea, they have a large global footprint.
Kia Motors North America (KMA) has headquarters and a design center in Irvine, California. The Kia production facility in West Point, Georgia began building American made Kia vehicles in February 2009. Since this time, selected Kia models, like the Sorento Crossover vehicle, and Optima sedan were made in the USA. The 2020 Kia Telluride will be the first Kia to be entirely designed and built in the USA. This mid-sized SUV was designed at KMA headquarters in California specifically for the US market and will be manufactured in Georgia.
VIDEO | Inside Look at A Kia Factory in Slovakia
Similar Kia international divisions exist in Europe, Mexico, India, and Pakistan. Since 1991, Kia has concentrated most of its international marketing strategy toward the European market, manufacturing both left and right hand drive models. Though, recent growth in the US market has been phenomenal and the development of uniquely American Kia vehicles is going to continue.
So, it’s not so much a question of where is Kia made but, rather, where is a specific Kia model made. The answer could be any of the countries listed. It’s most likely that, if you’re buying a Kia in the US, your Kia has been made in the USA.
It’s a little known fact that the Kia Motors Corporation dates back to 1944, starting out as Kyungsung Precision Industry. Initially, production was focused on steel tubing and bicycle components. The company changed its name to Kia Industries in 1952. The name Kia consists of two characters from the Sino Korean alphabet, pronounced “ki” and “A”. Loosely translated, this means “to come out of the east”.
In 1957, they started manufacturing small motorcycles under license to Honda and, later, trucks. The first Kia trucks, built from 1962 onwards, were essentially rebranded Mazda trucks, assembled in Korea. They started building passenger cars in 1973 until 1981, when they were forced by the Korean government to stop light vehicle production, only building trucks. Early Kia cars were also licensed models from foreign countries, assembled in Korea. These included the Fiat 123 and Peugeot 604.
In 1986, Kia formed a partnership with Ford and resumed passenger car manufacturing. Sold in South Korea and exported internationally, the kia Pride was redesigned using the Mazda 121 platform. The lineup included another model, the Avella. In the USA these cars were sold under the Ford brand (Ford Festiva and Ford Aspire). Kia became incorporated in the USA in 1992, selling their cars under the Kia brand as of February 1994.
In 1997, the Asian financial crisis resulted in Kia being declared bankrupt. The following year, 1998, a corporate rescue agreement was entered into with Hyundai Motor Company, with Hyundai obtaining a majority (51%) stake in the company. Since then, Hyundai has divested some of its stake in Kia and now owns 33.88%. Though Hyundai remains a majority shareholder. Kia, in turn, owns shares in 22 Hyundai-owned companies, with holdings ranging from 4.9% – 45.37%.
While these statistics may seem insignificant, under the leadership of Hyundai, Kia Motors has seen a major transformation. The new direction for Kia Motors has been to move away from cheap knock-offs of other vehicle brands. In 2006, Kia employed German designer Peter Schreyer as their Chief Design Officer. Famous for his work on several iconic German cars, inter-alia the Audi TT, Schreyer has been responsible for reinventing the Kia style image. Though, fashionable European styling is only part of the new Kia image.
Kia cars are now engineered by both Kia and Hyundai. The result has been current technology being used, instead of relying on discontinued mechanical components and license agreements. Kia cars are now competing directly with European, American, and Japanese car manufacturers. Quality has been improved and so has the technology.
VIDEO | A Look at the Kia Telluride
As an aside, I bought a new SUV in 2019 and I test drove the Kia Telluride at the local dealership as all of the research indicated it was an SUV to seriously consider. I’m happy to report that I loved the Telluride. The design was impressive and overall, it’s a stylish approach to design reflecting European aesthetics. I didn’t end up buying one because it was more money than I wanted to spend. Ultimately I purchased a Honda CR-V, Touring model, which is also fantastic. Because I have a dog I would have been happier with more interior room, which the Kia Telluride has.
Point being, if you’re in the market for a large SUV then put the Telluride on your list of vehicles to test drive.
Should you buy a Kia?
Until recently, I would not have recommended buying a Kia. The early Kia models, before 2005, were cheap, badly built cars, using old technology. They were essentially affordable cars, aimed at first time new car buyers, who simply couldn’t afford anything better.
The recent redirection of the Kia brand still places them amongst the most affordable cars. Though, with improved quality and engineering, they are now good common sense vehicles. New models from Kia are not always as powerful as their competitors. But amongst the cheapest cars, most Kia models are rate as the best performers. Kia has also focused highly of fuel efficiency and low maintenance costs. This furthers the opinion that Kia cars are good value in the long term.
Today, I see Kia vehicles as the ideal choice for family car buyers, looking for good economy and reliability. The 2020 Kia Telluride is a prime example of the direction Kia motors is taking in the US. Not only is this Kia model made in the USA; but is targeted at the popular midsized SUV market. This would be people who want a spacious family vehicle, with good gas mileage, and a high level of specification and comfort. While it is yet to be seen if the Telluride can compete with the BMX X3, Audi Q3, or the Chevrolet Traverse when it comes to performance, I suspect it probably won’t.
It is, however, likely to be considerably cheaper than any of the German and US models that I mentioned. It is also likely to be more fuel efficient and probably cheaper to maintain. As seen in all current Kia vehicles, technology should be on a par with anything we see coming from the US, Europe, or Japan.
Even base Kia models are now equipped with a high level of specification. Touch screen infotainment systems, abundant safety features, and advanced warning systems, once found only on high-end luxury cars, are now even found on the small Kia Picanto, which is one of the most affordable compact sedans on the market.
Conclusion : Is Kia the Right Brand for You?
Kia was once seen as a cheap car brand, lacking in quality and high-end design features. Since falling under the control of Hyundai, the company has seen a major turn-around strategy. I feel that, since the beginning, Hyundai has been a motor manufacturer to be reckoned with. I have often referred to the brand as the new Toyota.
Similar to the VW-Audi, or Toyota-Lexus philosophy, the Kia-Hyundai marriage has Hyundai cars move into the higher-end bracket, competing with BMW, Audi, Toyota, and Chev. Kia is the more economical equivalent, with not the quite the same brand prestige, nor top end performance.
Kia is now made in several countries around the world, with specific models targeted for the region where they are built. Kia does appear to be aiming at the high-performance car buyer. Instead, the target market seems to be people looking for a sensible, budget-friendly vehicle for everyday driving. By improving build quality and increasing the level of luxury, Kia cars are now an appealing option for a broad spectrum of the market.
While it may take some time to break the Kia reputation as being cheap and unreliable, this might be a good thing. A long array of motoring awards and high international ratings in recent years, are clear evidence that Kia is on an upward trajectory. However, historical bias toward the brand means they still have some way to go in building consumer confidence. This means they have to remain competitively priced to gain market share. If the Hyundai example is anything to go by, we may see Kia prices increase as their reputation improves. This should also mean better resale prices for pre-owned Kia’s moving forward. You just have look at how Hyundai moved from being amongst the cheapest (new or used) cars, to now being priced at quite a similar level to Toyota, VW, and Honda.