Better tomorrows April 16th, 2008

By James Kim
Deputy General Manager
New Business Development Team
Hyundai Motor Group (China) Ltd.

For about seven years after joining Hyundai Motor Company, I worked at the Purchasing Division and was in charge of purchases from Japanese equipment makers. In the course of my work, I became acquainted with my Japanese counterparts and now, I am fortunate to call some of them close friends. At the end of February, I met with my Japanese friends, Y and S.

S told me that in talking with Japanese technical staff and other acquaintances that Japanese companies no longer regard their Korean counterparts as a threat because they don’t have the same passion and attitude as before. In the late ‘80s when Japan’s bubble economy was bursting, Japanese companies became wary of Korean firms due to internal and external changes.

Y said that in his experience, when making new equipment purchases, Japanese automakers demanded equipment levels required for their situation after undertaking sufficient study and research. On the other hand, he said Korean engineers frequently demanded options for the most up-to-date features, surpassing those asked for by Japanese makers. Y cautiously opined that this passion and eagerness for new technology was a reflection of the culture code of Korean engineers.

But considering how the Japanese frequently distinguish between their public façade (Tatemae) and true feelings (Honne), I pondered over what their comments really meant. Although it may appear strange to Japanese makers who will “even wring out a dry rag,” the Korean culture code that favorably regards a certain level of tolerance may be reflected in the process of deciding specs for research equipment.

A major characteristic of the auto industry is the priority on completion based on strict adherence to rules and cooperation. As such, I believe that to Koreans, the auto industry not only represented the challenge of accumulating new technology and creating a culture of cooperation, but also of revamping Korean companies. Thanks to the advances that have been made, Korea’s auto industry has now reached international levels, especially in terms of production technology and quality.

However, for made-in-Korea cars to be truly recognized by customers worldwide, I feel that Korean automakers still face lofty goals. They need more original product development and have to build a sales system that can impress customers. To achieve these goals, the first step could be the systematic accumulation of know-how or sensibility. My Japanese friend Y had the following to say about sensibility.

A Korean lens maker brought in the latest production equipment with better options than those used by Hoya in an effort to beat the Japanese glass and lens maker. But regardless of the better equipment, the Korean company failed to produce goods of better quality and performance. The president of the Korean company discreetly called in Japanese technical staff to ask the reason for this. Their answer was as follows:

The final performance of a product is not made by a machine, but by the heart and experience of the engineer who is operating the machine. Some Chinese makers also installed and are using equipment that are more expensive than that of major Japanese makers but are still ending up with quality or performance levels below their expectations. Recently, Chinese engineers have been asking similar questions.

Kia is undergoing change. Change is being felt in production, sales and headquarters as all Kia employees strive to be designers. Kia employees are thinking harder about the problems they face and ways to overcome them. They are listening more attentively to customers to better accommodate their needs, and are striving to make speedier decisions and action plans.

Our beginnings may appear humble, but I look forward to the day when our combined efforts will prompt my Japanese friends to remark,

Korean automakers are really something. By having greater flexibility and decision-making than their Japanese peers, Korean companies have achieved amazing results. We really are in awe of Korean makers.

I believe that Kia will become such a Korean maker.

  • Mark Burgess

    “Korean automakers are really something. By having greater flexibility and decision-making than their Japanese peers, Korean companies have achieved amazing results. We really are in awe of Korean makers.”

    Why is North America (particularly Canada) not being given the option of a fuel efficient diesel engine in your vehicle offerings. I’m interested in purchasing a Rondo but with rising fuel prices and global warming I cannot understand why Kia does not provide this as an option in Canada. Is a diesel engine being considered for the Canadian market? If so when? The current gas engines 2.4l and 2.7l provide almost the same fuel efficiency. This does not make sense. It would seem appropriate to drop the 2.4l and replace it with the diesel.

    Thank you

  • James

    Thank you for your comment on my essay.
    As you exactly pointed out, I fully agreed that the fuel efficiency is most important factor for our company to be one of the leading company in the automotive industry.
    As for me, I think not only in the respect of sales enhancement but also in the respect of building the sustainable society , every employee of our company has to make effort to this issue.

  • Mark Burgess

    Is there anyone at KIA that could respond to my request for a diesel engine option for the Rondo. I do not want to make a purchase now and then find one is being added to the 2009 model year. Thank you for your previous reply.

  • Acording to reports I read in magazines, Kia does not plan to offer a diesel in Rondo! The first Kia vehicle that will offer a diesel engine in USA will be the new Borrego. Kia plans to introduce it in 2010.

  • Esteban

    Hi.. Im from Argentina (sorry for my english) and Im thinking of buying a new Kia Rondo. The problem is that here the diesel has bad quality and if the Rondo comes with an euro4 engine then it will probably break. I know the Rondo in USA is Euro 4 but i thought that maybe here in Argentina they are selling a modified version of the Engine, otherwise the Car would have lots of problems.
    If anyone knows pease tell me… If the engine hasnt got problems i want to buy it next week :D

    Thank you

  • Rob Kealey

    I first became acquainted with Kia in 2001, and have been impressed by the astounding leaps of syle and quality on an almost annual basis. I truly believe that the Japanese makers see Korean makers gaining when they look in their competitive rear view mirrors.
    Keep up the good work.


    What about the Kia [Lotus] Elan?

    When can you start to produce it again?It can sell and compete against the Mazda Miata MX5.

    We need it RHD too.



  • I can tell that this is not the first time you write about the topic. Why have you decided to touch it again?

  • Just surffing online and I cam across your site. Thanks for your good time