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.