Without a doubt, the Kia Motors Corporation has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a bicycle manufacturer. Kia is the second-largest carmaker in South Korea, and it sells over 2 million vehicles a year through its vast network of distributors and dealers that covers over 172 countries. Kia is also partly owned by the Hyundai Motor Company; together, the Kia and Hyundai are the fifth-largest vehicle manufacturer in the world.
The name ‘Kia’ is said to consist of two Sino-Korean characters: 起 (ki) and 亞 (a); when translated, the (ki) is said to mean “to come out” and the (a) is said to mean “East” or “Asia.” So, by this definition, ‘Kia’ means ‘rising from the east’.
Kia Motors Corporation started out as the Kyungsung Precision Industry, which was founded in 1944 as a manufacturer of bicycle parts and steel tubing. The company’s expertise in developing bicycle parts grew, and in 1951, the company produced Korea’s first bicycle, the ‘Sumchully’. A year later, the company changed its name to Kia industries. From 1957, Kia Industries started helping to build small Honda-licensed motorcycles, and later from 1962, it also started building Mazda-licensed trucks. It was not until 1969 that Kia produced its first vehicle – the 3-wheeled pickup truck called the T-600. It was a small, practical pickup truck that helped individuals and small businesses to deliver goods and carry daily necessities. With the success of the T-600 and the other motorcycles and vehicles that it was producing, Kia Industries managed to open its first automobile manufacturing facility (the Sohari Plant) in 1973. It was mainly used to build Brisa compact sedans and pickups.
Kia Industries continued to grow through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s, but in 1981, an order by South Korea’s military dictator Chun Doo-Hwan brought all that progress to a stop. The order, which remained in effect until 1986, was for Kia to give up the passenger car production and shift focus to building light trucks. From 1986, Kia started getting back on its feet by selling assembled cars of other makes, e.g. the Fiat 132, the Peugeot 604, and the Ford Aspire. Also, through partnering with Ford, Kia was able to start producing Mazda vehicles both for local distribution in South Korea and for export.
Kia got a big break in 1992 when it managed to set up shop in the USA. It started out in Portland, Oregon with just four dealerships; by 1995, it had over 100 dealerships in over 30 states. Kia’s reputation in the USA also changed with time. When it was starting out, Kia had a reputation in the USA for making cars of questionable quality; that reputation changed as Kia worked continually to improve the quality of its vehicles. Kia Motors America had sold 24,740 vehicles by 1995.
In 1997, because of the strain that came with the Asian financial crisis, Kia Motors was forced to declare bankruptcy. The next year, however, the Hyundai Motor Company stepped in to bail out Kia Motors. Out of that, an agreement was reached in which Hyundai Motor Company took up 51% of Kia Motors. Kia Motors, in turn, acquired ownership of 22 of the Hyundai Motor Company’s different subsidiaries.
Today, through hiring brilliant minds like Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer and through focusing on delivering high build quality, captivating design, strong yet fuel-efficient powertrains, and groundbreaking technology, Kia has established itself as a strong, global, mainstream car brand. Kia is also one of the most reliable car brands on the market. According to a study that was conducted by iSeeCars, it has the third-lowest rate of recalls after Porsche and Mercedes-Benz.
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