With a growing stable of models and a generous 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, Kia is turning more and more heads in the US. Kia Motors America is the US sales, marketing and distribution arm of South Korea-based Kia Motors. In the US Kia sells the Forte (coupe, sedan, and five-door hatchback), Optima (sedan, also comes in a hybrid engine version), Rio (compact sedan), Sedona (minivan), Sorento (SUV), Soul (urban passenger vehicle), and Sportage (SUV). Kia Motors America has 730 dealerships in the US. Its manufacturing plant, Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG), produces the Optima and the Sorento. Fellow Korean automaker Hyundai Motor controls almost 35% of Kia Motors.
Since landing on US shores Kia Motors America has enjoyed 16 consecutive years of increased sales. By November 2011 it sold about 405,000 vehicles, up from the 356,000 vehicles it sold in all of 2010. (In previous years it sold 300,000 in 2009 and 273,000 in 2008). Kia has been fiddling with its lineup and stopped making a few different models for the US market. It phased out the Amanti, a full-size sedan designed to look like a European car; the Spectra, a compact sedan that lasted nine years, until 2009; the Rondo, an SUV that was too much like the better-selling Sportage; and the Borrego, a full-size SUV that lasted only one year, in 2009.
Most of the vehicles sold in the US are manufactured in South Korea, but Kia's manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia does make the Optima and the Sorento. The $1 billion, 200,000-sq.-ft. automotive assembly and manufacturing plant is Kia's only factory in the US. The plant opened in late 2009 and underwent a $100 million expansion in 2011 to increase its production capacity from 300,000 to 360,000 vehicles per year. Before the expansion, the plant only produced the Sorento and the Hyundai Santa Fe (also an SUV); now it also makes the Optima sedan. Kia's decision to choose the Georgia site was influenced by the proximity of a Hyundai factory about 75 miles away in Montgomery, Alabama.
With all the new cars being made, Kia must entice new and repeat drivers. The company is targeting younger drivers through ad campaigns and other social media avenues. Part of its strategy is to offer more electronic gadgetry to appeal to younger drivers. It launched a voice-activated infotainment system known as UVO (short for "Your Voice"), which was developed with Microsoft, in its 2011 Sorento. UVO allows drivers and passengers to answer and place telephone calls and access music controls while driving. Kia also appeals to customers through its award-winning ad campaign that feature hamsters groovin' out in a Soul, instead of being stuck in a hamster wheel and going nowhere.
While all Kia models are fuel efficient, averaging about 26 miles per gallon, the company launched its first hybrid engine for the Optima in the 2012 model. The Optima Hybrid gets 35 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway and is only sold in select markets. At one time, the company had considering offering the now-defunct Borrego as a fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV).