Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on November 17, 2009
While other automakers slash output and close production lines, South Korea’s Kia Motors has just opened a $1 billion plant in Georgia. The new factory, part of Kia’s growing presence in the U.S. market, has an annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles. On Nov. 17, it began rolling out the new Sorento sport utility vehicle, which Kia will sell in America from January.
Kia, controlled by Hyundai Motor, Korea’s largest carmaker, is confident it can increase its U.S. sales by double digits next year. The Korean company will offer four new models, including the completely redesigned Optima sedan and the Sportage crossover. “We are prepared to expand,” declares Thomas Oh, executive vice president in charge of Kia’s America business. Oh predicts U.S. sales of 350,000 vehicles next year, up from a projected 300,000 this year.
The optimism stems from the Korean carmaker’s outstanding performance this year. In the first 10 months, when the industry’s sales fell 25% in the U.S., Kia sold 261,000 vehicles there, up 7.2% from a year earlier. Company officials say Kia’s U.S. market share, which rose to 2.1% last year from 1.9% in 2007, is poised to top 3% this year for the first time. Taking advantage of its strong lineup of small cars and a weak Korean currency, Kia has managed to win customers from General Motors, Toyota and Honda. With the Korean won still about 19% weaker against the greenback than it was at the beginning of last year, Kia’s expansion story isn’t likely to end for a while.