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Kia: A Brief History of the Brand

Updated on December 12, 2013

Kia Motors Company - The Not-So-New Kid on the Block

Today's lens will discuss the history of the Kia brand from its humble origins as a bicycle parts manufacturer during the dark days of WWII to a successful automaker with a number of offerings in the global market today.

Kia's Humble Origins

In 1944 Kia began its corporate life as a manufacturer of steel tubing and bicycle parts. According to corporate legend, the Kia name is derived form Sino-Korean terms "ki" which means "to come out of" or "rise up from" and "a" which is intended to signify Asia. In other words, Kia Motor Company makes products that come out of Asia--pretty cool name if you ask me. But we digress so let's get back to the point.

From its founding in 1944 until 1950 it produced only bicycle parts but it began to produce complete bicycles in 1951. This development led to Kia down the path to making motorized scooters and, eventually the company (like other Asian automakers before it) became the first Korean passenger car maker, releasing the Brisa in 1974.

Kia Comes of Age

Throughout the 70 and 80s Kia continued to build its fleet at home in South Korea. By the time it partnered with Ford in 1986 it was ready to strike out for the unchartered territory of global sales and, with help of FMC developed the Concord, Avella and Pride. Ford quickly rebadged the Pride as the Festiva for sale in the US and did the same with the Avella shortly thereafter branding it as the Ford Aspire.

The 1990s really represented a sea change in Kia's offerings and was the first time that the marque sold its vehicles under its own name in the US and abroad. The Sephia, a compact sedan with a four cylinder engine and an unbeatable price tag was soon followed up by the Sportage, a compact crossover designed to cash in on the SUV raze of the Nineties. Despite the roaring success of the brand, the Asian financial crisis at the end of the decade forced Kia into bankruptcy and resulted in a buyout by Hyundai.

Kia - A Car Company for the 21st Century

The turn of the millennium bore witness to a veritable renaissance of the company and Kia launched a bevvy of highly successful sedan, hatchbacks and crossovers. The Spectra was released in 2000 as both a five door hatchback and four door sedan version and quickly took the market by storm gaining a reputation for dependability, quality and cost-consciousness. Kia had unseated the former kings of the economy segment (Honda and Toyota) who had lost their way.

Another development that took place in the same year was the replacement of the now obsolete Pride by the Rio which also enjoyed considerable success. Encouraged on by high sales and an enhanced reputation, Kia launched the Sportage (another SUV offering) as well as the Amanti-although the latter would be shelved in 2007.

In the last few years, Kia has attempted to attract a younger market segment and has gone head to head with the Scion marque which has seemingly lost the support of Toyota. The Kia Forte and Soul which comes standard with USB ports and other tech-savvy accoutrements are not only attractively styled and priced but come replete with a hip-hop marketing campaign designed to highlight the youthfulness of the brand.

Kia - 2014 and Beyond - What Does the Future Hold?

No one can tell definitively what the future holds for Kia but it is almost certain that the company isn't going to disappear anytime soon. Unlike other foreign car makers such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan Kia seems to have a good understanding of what makes it a success and is able to clearly articulate its corporate vision through its design and marketing. One can only hope that we will be seeing some of the concept cars coming out of Kia's design studios in 2014 and beyond.

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