Kia sharply increasing U.S sales

Kia sharply increasing U.S sales

February 7th, 2010 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

WEST POINT, Ga. - Assembly line workers at Kia's new $1.2 billion auto plant here are building 700 vehicles a day.

Soon, the plant that began operation last November will boost production even more as it tries to keep pace with record demand for the South Korean automaker's vehicles.

Kia sales in North America grew almost 10 percent last year over 2008, and its officials are striving to top that figure in 2010. Kia and sister company Hyundai are doing what Volkswagen is trying to accomplish - sharply boost U.S. sales and become a more significant player in the market here.

"They're putting out good products, and the price is consistent with what people want to pay today," said Jeannine Fallon of auto Web site Edmunds.com.

Kia sold about 300,000 vehicles in North America in 2009. Hyundai sold another 435,000, up 8.3 percent.

VW sold almost 298,000 units in the U.S. last year including Audi, a total down 5.2 percent from 2008. VW plans to boost sales to 1 million units by 2018 in the U.S., with its Chattanooga assembly plant scheduled to come online next year and be a big contributor, officials have said.

Ms. Fallon said VW officials realize they need to do more to better succeed in the U.S.

"They're trying hard," she said. "With the new plant, it will make them an interesting player to watch."

Staff photo by Patrick Smith/Chattanooga Times Free Press An employee of Sewon America walks through their LaGrange, Ga., plant. Sewon America is the largest supplier for the Kia plant in West Point, Ga., about 15 miles away. Sewon America, who employs about 700 people, stamps car body parts for Kia.

Randy Jackson, director of human resources and administration at Kia's Georgia plant, said his company did well in 2009.

"I think we hit the market at the right time and with the right product," he said.

Kia spokeswoman Joanne Mabrey said the West Point plant, the automaker's newest, also is its most modern facility.

Along the assembly line, for example, robots help workers do the heavy lifting as team members put parts into new Sorento sport utility vehicles.

"We really use technology to apply to the human factor," Ms. Mabrey said. "It helps keep team members stress free."

Workers also rotate jobs to cut down on monotony, she said.

"They do jobs upstream and downstream," she said.

Ms. Mabrey said the plant also is union free.

"We prefer it stay that way," she said, citing good communication among team members and efforts to keep them happy.