From Humble Beginnings to Global Success: A History of KIA Motors


KIA Motors, South Korea’s second-largest automobile manufacturer, is known for its range of affordable and high-quality vehicles. Over the years, the company has grown and evolved into a global brand, making a significant impact in the automotive industry. In this blog, we delve into the history of KIA Motors, exploring its humble beginnings and the journey to its current position as a world-renowned automaker.

The Birth of KIA Motors

Founded in 1944, KIA Motors started as Kyungsung Precision Industry, a small company that initially manufactured steel tubing and bicycle parts. It wasn’t until 1951 that the company ventured into producing complete bicycles under the name KIA. In 1957, KIA entered the automotive sector by building motorcycles in partnership with Honda. By 1962, the company began producing trucks, and in 1973, it completed its first automobile assembly plant in South Korea. This was the turning point for KIA as it shifted its focus towards the automotive industry. At this time, leasing a KIA wasn’t even an option, but as the company grew, it would eventually become a popular choice for many consumers.

Entering the Global Market

KIA Motors expanded its reach in the international market by entering the United States in 1992, with the establishment of KIA Motors America. In 1994, the company launched the KIA Sephia in the US, marking the beginning of KIA’s journey as a global automobile manufacturer. However, KIA faced a setback in 1997 when it declared bankruptcy due to the Asian financial crisis. The following year, KIA Motors was acquired by Hyundai Motor Group, which later helped the company recover and strengthen its global presence.

Revitalisation and Innovation

In the early 2000s, KIA underwent a significant transformation with the aim of revitalising its image and expanding its product line-up. This led to the introduction of several new models, including the KIA Sorento, a midsize SUV that quickly gained popularity among consumers. In 2006, KIA hired Peter Schreyer, a renowned German automotive designer, to serve as the company’s Chief Design Officer. Schreyer played a critical role in redesigning KIA’s vehicles, giving them a distinctive and stylish look that contributed to the brand’s growth and success.

Embracing Eco-Friendly Technologies

KIA Motors has always been committed to sustainable mobility and the development of environmentally-friendly technologies. In 2009, the company introduced the KIA Soul, its first mass-produced electric vehicle (EV), in the South Korean market. This marked KIA’s entry into the rapidly growing EV market. Later, in 2011, the company launched the KIA Optima Hybrid, which was a major milestone in its efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and promote green mobility. Since then, KIA has been expanding its range of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric vehicles, with models like the KIA Niro and KIA EV6 garnering global attention.

Continuous Growth and Success

KIA Motors has experienced impressive growth over the past few decades, with its global sales increasing from around 500,000 units in 1998 to over 2.8 million units in 2019. The company has been able to achieve this growth by focusing on quality, design, and innovation, which has earned it numerous awards and accolades. For example, KIA has consistently performed well in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, often ranking among the top automakers for vehicle quality.