Kia is a long way from hawking the anonymous lozenge known as the Sephia on our shores. That was only 1994, though, and in less than 20 years the company has gone from judging its aspirations against Japanese budget competition to walking auto show floors checking out the German standard-bearers for tips on how to increase sales and brand prestige. In an interview with Automotive News, Kia executives laid out their plan for carving out a Volkswagen-like niche for the company whereby they could be viewed as the premium pick in a volume segment. Concepts like the Kia Cub, above, would seem to point in this direction.

Kia is keen to make sure its sales targets don't impinge on its quest for better and better quality.

Kia's prime directive is "an unrelenting focus on quality." The Japanese brands earned a reputation for bulletproof reliability, and Kia is keen to make sure its sales targets don't impinge on its quest for better and better quality – neither in-house nor for its suppliers, a trade-off we've seen go wrong before. It has a Pilot Center that studies each new model for potential production problems before being given the approval for manufacture, and it isn't until the quality control department gives the okay that manufacture can begin.

Assuming quality is assured, the second part of the mission is to develop cars with powertrains that provide "performance-oriented technology." That means putting its small turbo engines in more of its model line, like the new Forte getting the 1.6-liter, direct-injected turbo, more hybrids options among current nameplates and a plug-in hybrid, and bringing dual-clutch gearboxes to the US by 2015.

Beyond the keeping an eye on quality, though, Kia has to keep an eye on the South Korean won. Its plants are now at capacity, it wants to sell 800,000 more vehicles in 2016 than it did in 2012, but the rising value of the South Korean currency means it would need to look at removing content in order to maintain profits. AN said the company will get by right now by trimming the R&D budget and putting more expensive trim packages in the range, but that if that isn't enough it might have to shorten the list of standard features. It's looking at features that customers don't care about, but if it came to that, taking items out would take Kia in the opposite direction of its market segment.


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  • 59 Comments
      F1
      • 1 Year Ago
      Why is it that car manufacturers tease us with amazing looking concepts and then come out with something that barely resembles them afterwards? The Range Rover Evoque is proof that people will buy something that actually looks like the concept they fell in love with. Come on Kia, build something that looks exactly like this thing (minus the fins on the lower part of the doors).
      dohc73
      • 1 Year Ago
      So what they're saying is that right now their cars are not great and we had you fooled world, but now we will actually make cars that won't fall apart in eight years; and yet I still wouldn't consider a KIA or Hyundai ever in a trillion years. There's no amount of tech you could use that could erase the stigma of owning a Korean car.
        NightFlight
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dohc73
        That actually isn't what they were saying or even implying at all. Troll on.
        Dean
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dohc73
        American & Japanese cars have also had stigmas attached to them at one point, or another, and they've both turned around. It just takes time.
      Master Austin
      • 1 Year Ago
      Kia needs to focus on reliability not just quality. Even 2 year old products aren't holding up as well as their competitors. Yes they have improved, but constantly rank low in every possible survey for reliability.
        NightFlight
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Master Austin
        "constantly rank low in every possible survey for reliability." Source? TrueDelta, JD Power, and Consumer Reports do not agree with that statement.
      zoom_zoom_zoom
      • 1 Year Ago
      LOL, nice spin on KIA's dismal March sales plummet. Only companies doing worse that KIA were Maserati, Volvo, Lincoln and Mitsubushi
        carguy1701
        • 1 Year Ago
        @zoom_zoom_zoom
        You ARE aware this is more or less the same exact thing the Japanese brands did years ago, right? Oh wait, you're a fanboy, facts don't matter, only your (flawed) opinion.
      mbukukanyau
      • 1 Year Ago
      I think they are doing a good job, so far, though, I will not buy one just yet. If I was looking asian, Kia and Hyundai would get priority over Japan, depending on what the test drives turned out to be. Safe for Honda, I cannot think of any Japanese Automaker who does more quality cars than Hyundai/Kia
      FIDTRO
      • 1 Year Ago
      "It has a Pilot Center that studies each new model for potential production problems before being given the approval for manufacture, and it isn't until the quality control department gives the okay that manufacture can begin." Damn, their checklist must just be whether the doors have fallen off and whether the car looks enough like an Audi or BMW.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
      GoBolts
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Japanese had the same problem when they first started selling their cars. Americans ridiculed anyone who owned one vs. having an American made car. Japanese cars were perceived as inferior, poorly built cars. Look at where they are now. Japanese cars dominate the landscape. Kia is experiencing a renaissance period. Hyundai and even the big 3 are also in the same situation. The fact that the Focus surpassed the Corolla in 2012 in sales, is a testament to overall percieved quality of an American product vs. a Japanese one. Korea is certainly up there and the fact that they are even working harder to attain luxury status is commendable. If you look closely at the quality that goes into their products with every product cycle, you know that the Koreans are relentless.
        churchmotor
        • 1 Year Ago
        @GoBolts
        ummmm....nooooo When the Accord hit the shores of the USA, it was a BIG WIDE wake up call for Detroit. From day one, the Accord was a shining example of quality and reliability. It was SO good, Detroit lobbied Congress, and won, to put import restrictions on them. Honda's answer, just built them in Ohio.
      Taint
      • 1 Year Ago
      Kia/hyundai are only 1 or 2 generations removed from trash, depending on the model. Add in their recalls that decapitate people (shattering roofs, headliner cutting off ears) and their false mileage claims, then this article should be taken with a grain of salt
      Basil Exposition
      • 1 Year Ago
      Reads like a commercial.
        FIDTRO
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Basil Exposition
        Only this time, lying about quality instead of MPGs.
      Polly Prissy Pants
      • 1 Year Ago
      It's tough to overcome a poor reputation no matter how good your products may be today (and Kia's are quite good). These days, image is everything and quality is assumed so that alone won't get you there. How many awful BMWs and VWs have rolled off the assembly line yet they're still somehow seen as 'premium' brands? The bottom line is you have to start making expensive cars to be seen as a premium brand. That's it. Not all have to be expensive but some do, and the more expensive the better. In a world where expensive=good and affordable=bad that's the only way to get there. Kia doesn't need to be looking at Volkswagen for tips, they need to be looking at companies like Nike, Apple and North Face who pay the rent with that business model.
      Scooter
      • 1 Year Ago
      Kia and Hyundai use gimmick technology and self proclaimed "quality" to promote sales. I dare you to get Honda/Toyota and Kia/Hyundai, inspect them side by side. You would be amazed by the difference in craftsmanship, refinement of materials and design. The Koreans are only focusing on rapid development and over the top designs, I get that most Kias/Hyundais look better than Toyotas, but I'm still not going to gamble on a Kia/Hyundai for aesthetics.
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