Kia – Return to the days of creating new markets March 3rd, 2008

By James Kim
Deputy General Manager
Overseas Policy Research Team
Hyundai & Kia Corporate Product Planning & Strategy Division

I currently work in the Product Strategy Division at Hyundai Motors. Fourteen years have passed since I joined the company back in 1994. Back then, Kia was recognized as being completely distinct from Hyundai with its own share of eager fans. Working for Kia Motors was especially sought after and I knew someone in college who made extra preparations to pass Kia’s recruitment process.

However, with the merger of Hyundai and Kia almost a decade ago, the Kia brand seems to have lost a few of its eager fans. Personally, I thought Kia used to project an image of spending more time coming up with ideas and conducting more tests than Hyundai. That can be seen from Kia’s unique product lineup. For example, Kia’s Bongo was the first van in Korea, and the Carnival helped revive the company during the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis. Kia has always been a step ahead in the Korean market, being the first company to export Korean vehicles, and created new market segments. In that sense, Kia can be likened to Honda of Japan.

In early February, I attended the Honda Special Day in Tokyo, Japan. People who joined Honda during the 1960~70s gave presentations on their experience in research, development, production and sales. I learned how Honda, a latecomer in the Japanese auto market, managed to survive among the early years and grow into the leading Japanese automaker.

What moved me most was the fact that Honda was a true niche maker. Honda was a small niche maker. But Honda was different from other niche makers. While a niche cannot be uncovered and developed by just anyone, unique products all originated from niches, and Honda created new demand.


I began to picture Kia’s current situation in my mind. I believe Kia is a company full of potential. Thanks to the Bongo and Carnival, Kia has been associated with the image of novelty and creativity throughout Korea’s automobile history. Thanks to the efforts of Kia employees, former and present, Kia has grown into a global corporation with world-class production and sales capabilities. Looking ahead, one way for Kia to evolve into a main player on the global stage is to once again display its creativity.

What makes Kia creative, I ask myself? What is its DNA makeup? I think the answer lies in Kia’s ability and passion to create new markets, long ago demonstrated during the process of developing Bongo and Carnival. The cee’d and SOUL concept vehicles are perfect examples of Kia’s future creativity currently in development.

If Kia’s DNA once again comes into play, then someday I could be the person speaking about my experience at schools and industry related conferences.

  • J.H.Kim

    In my opinion, “Sportage” also created totally new category in the automotive industry in 1990s. That was “SUV” which is very familiar to us.

    Hopefully, The Kia’s innovative DNA which has slept for a decade should wake up and open the new era…

  • James

    Yes, Sportage could be one of trend innovator.
    & I have a plan to write the culture code between Korean & Japanese to reconsider of DNA of our automotive industry.

  • Mike Larew

    A friend of mine bought a KIA Sportage and asked me to ride with him to pick it up. After the ride back to his house, I was bitten by the KIA bug. I went out the next week and bought a Sportage also. I enjoyed the sportage so much that I bought a Sorento. Both of these vehicles I believe represent what is best about KIA, value and quality.

    I have owned several Toyota 4Runners (99 & 02) in the past, and my 05 Sorento is far better than both of these vehicles. To me, the Sorento is now what Land Rover should be.

  • James

    Owing to favorable and sincere customer like as you, I believe that Kia will make best effort to establish new era of their value and quality.

  • You were bitten by the power to surpise…by Kia. :)

  • The Sorento is a perfect example of what an affordable Range Rover type vehicle should be. When it was introduced it had class-leading levels of quality, features and a 5-speed automatic transmission when the competition at the time like the Honda CR-V and Nissan X-Trail only had 4-speeds.

  • Hi. I just bough a double cabin 4×4 Bongo here in Brazil to travel with my family. I really believe that Kia should invest some time and effort presenting this vehicle as an option for a small overlander small truck(a new niche???).

    We are having some problems to adapt it to a safer grade (we will travel with 2 small girls – 2 and 4 years old) like having 3 point seat belts in the back, plate protections in the bottom (that air-conditioning heat exchanger is too exposed or what???), etc. But that is also part of the fun on developing our own project!

    We love our Bongo, with it´s different look and concept. I just started a new blog about our Bongo and the trips we intend to make. Hope you can follow some of it (it´s in portuguese, sorry!)

    Best wishes from Brazil


  • Pamela in Korea

    Tony… sounds interesting. Send the link to your blog!