On two occasions, I have taken the long flight to South Korea to visit what is the home base for Kia and its parent company Hyundai. Today the Kia brand is a global one, and one which has enjoyed huge success in a relatively short time. I tas originally founded in 1944 as the Kyungsung Precision Industry which produced tubing and bicycles, a few years before the first car to wear the Kia badge. There were co-operations with various manufacturers, Honda and Ford to name but two. One of the first cars was the Pride largely based on the Mazda 121 and just like the Japanese carmakers, Kia set its target on the European market in 2005. Just like the Japanese invasion of the European market by the likes of Toyota, Honda and Mazda etc which dented the sales of European built cars; clearly Kia wanted a slice of the action and the Japanese brands were facing a new challenge in the European sector.
While Kia had its major manufacturing base in South Korea it was soon to expand manufacturing to Europe with vehicles such as the popular Sportage which is manufactured at their Zilina facility in Slovakia. With each new model which comes to market, great attention is paid to design and engineering in order to suit that market; drive a Kia and you will discover a very distinctive European drive feel. Last year, in world terms, Kia sold 2.9 million vehicles and they have set a target for 3.2 million in 2023 and like so many of the competition the focus is turning to EVs and beyond that, to hydrogen. On one visit to South Korea I had the opportunity to drive one of their hydrogen powered SUVs and I came away impressed, public transport in Seoul the capital uses hydrogen powered buses. Here I am in a manner almost discussing the end of the life of the EV and in my mind I have no doubt that hydrogen will be the future of motoring.
Why has Kia become such a popular brand? There are a number of reasons; a comprehensive seven year warranty brings peace of mind, one which transfers to another owner, keen pricing and a wide choice of vehicles to select from. Currently the Sportage is the most popular in the line-up, a small car like Picanto continues to prove popular and Ceed and XCeed are currently notching up sales. When I was putting these words together I was in the midst of a week behind the wheel of the latest Sportage, currently one of the most popular Kias on our roads. My test vehicle was a 1.6 litre petrol version with a six speed manual transmission and I have to admit I have lost count of the months since I last drove a car with a manual transmission. With this Kia, a slick operation and in a way I enjoyed have to work to select gears. Performance wise the sprint from rest to 100kph (62mph) comes up in just under ten seconds, pretty average I guess for a car of this engine capacity in its class. In common with the rest of the Kia range in terms of standard equipment you get quite a lot for your money. The latest Sportage has clean, modern exterior styling and the interior package can rival and surpass many of its competitors. A very practical vehicle, little wonder that it has found favour with so many. Kia is enjoying success with their EV6 and one commentator has named it the best EV in the world; certainly I enjoyed my time behind the wheel of one; but I must admit I am not yet a convert to the EV. Some followers of mine have voiced that EV cars are slow; in the main not in terms of acceleration, top speed largely yes. However Kia has the answer the EV6 GT, which can reach 100kph (62mph) in 3.4 seconds with a top speed of 260kph (161mph).
We can expect much more from Kia in the future; no doubt further hybrids and EVs; more eye-catching designs and an even greater emphasis on technology.