Kia celebrates 30 years in the UK

Kia celebrates 30 years in the UK
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Kia proudly celebrates its 30th year of sales in the UK today, having flourished from a single-model debut in 1991 to enjoying its highest ever market share today as Kia UK Limited.

Kia marked the occasion with a photoshoot of its most important historic models on the banking at the historic Brooklands motor racing circuit. The banking is less than 300 metres from Kia UK’s previous headquarters, first established when the business became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kia Corporation in 2002. Kia UK Limited is currently headquartered in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey.

Kia’s 30-year history in the UK began in 1991 with the launch of the Kia Pride, imported by MCL Group and accounting for just 1,786 sales that year. The following three decades have seen the brand introduce successive generations of models across a wide range of vehicle segments. Highlights include four generations of Kia’s UK best-seller, the Sportage, as well the Ceed model family, small cars such as the Picanto and Rio, the Sorento large SUV, and even a high-performance fastback saloon, the Stinger.

In recent years Kia has also launched a range of advanced electrified vehicles, including the fully electric e-Niro and two generations of the zero-emissions Soul EV.

Since 1991, Kia has now sold a total of more than 1.2 million cars in the UK – and two thirds of these have been sold in only the last 10 years. Kia is also now the most popular it has ever been among UK customers, with a five per cent share of the new car market so far this year.

The image of the Kia brand has also developed significantly over this time, underpinned by relentless improvements in quality and reliability, design, and driver engagement. Since 2010, every model sold by Kia in the UK has offered a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, providing reliability and reassurance to customers. The brand’s design-led approach to product development has been led by Peter Schreyer through the brand’s global design network. This has also been matched by an accelerated focus on powertrain development and driving dynamics, ensuring Kia vehicles are as good to drive as they are to own and to look at.

Paul Philpott, President & CEO of Kia UK Limited, commented: “It’s incredible to look at the rate of progress we have enjoyed over the last three decades, both in terms of what our cars now offer drivers and how perceptions of our brand have changed. This success is testament not just to the products and services we offer, but also, importantly, thanks to the dedication and determination of our dealer partners, who tirelessly represent us so well to a growing number of customers up and down the country.

2021 provides an ideal moment for us to see where we’ve come from, but also to look forward to where we’re heading,” added Philpott. “Our product line-up is increasingly populated with hybrid and electric vehicles, and we’re embarking on an ambitious strategy to launch a range of dedicated new EVs over the next five years. The first of these will be the Kia EV6, which arrives in UK showrooms later this year. Kia’s presence in the UK in 1991 is almost unrecognisable today, and our long-term strategy will mean we continue to evolve and adapt in line with the changing needs of British customers over the next 30 years.

Kia announced its ambitious global ‘Plan S’ strategy in January 2020, establishing a mid- to long-term strategy based around three key pillars:

  • The brand’s transition to electric power will see Kia launch an 11-strong EV line-up by 2026, including seven dedicated EV models. The company is targeting 1.6 million eco-friendly vehicle sales globally by 2030
  • Secondly, to strengthen the purpose-built vehicle (PBV) business, a new PBV is due for launch in 2022, the first step in achieving a target of one million global PBV sales annually by 2030
  • Thirdly, Plan S seeks to expand Kia’s role as a future mobility services provider, diversifying Kia’s products and services to meet the changing mobility needs of customers

Kia also revealed its new logo and ‘Movement that inspires’ brand identity at the start of 2021. The first models to feature the new logo will arrive in the UK later this year.

Today, Kia is supported by an established network of 192 dealers and 11 authorised repairers across the UK, offering the full range of Kia vehicles, services, and aftersales support.

30 Years of Kia in the UK
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

On 1st August 2021, Kia UK celebrates a significant milestone of 30 years in the UK. Starting out with its cars being distributed by a small importer, the company has grown over the years into a wholly manufacturer-owned subsidiary.

On day one, there was just one diminutive model in Kia’s UK line-up – the Pride. Fast forward 30 years and the range has grown to 11 distinctive nameplates in the UK, expanding to 12 in October 2021 with the introduction of the exciting Kia EV6 – Kia’s flagship electric vehicle. The EV6 will sit alongside the e-Niro and Soul EV, its two award-winning zero emissions models.

Since Kia’s arrival in the UK in July 1991, more than 1.2 million cars have been sold here in Britain.

The first decade

In the early days, Kia was imported into the UK by MCL Group, based in Tunbridge Wells. The company also imported Mazda vehicles from Japan, as well as the Sao brand from South Africa. For the first four years, the Pride was the only model to be offered in the UK, in three- and five-door hatchback guises, or as a van.

The first launch for Kia in the UK was held in June 1991 at the Oakley Court Hotel near Windsor. The initial Pride line-up in 1991 consisted of 1.1L and 1.3LX models, with a choice of three- and five-door hatchbacks. A three-door van derivative arrived in 1992. The Pride continued on sale in the UK until 2000 and was subsequently replaced by two separate small cars: the Rio (launched in the UK in 2001) and the Picanto (in 2004). During the Pride’s nine-year life, several special edition models were launched, including the Graphite and Melody in 1994, Pzazz in 1995, Georgia and Phoenix versions in 1996, and the Shout in 1997.

The Kia range expanded with the launch of the medium-sized Mentor saloon in 1994, followed by the Sportage in 1995. The latter was built in Europe by Karmann in Osnabrück, Germany. More practical hatchback versions of the Mentor arrived in 1996, and 1999 saw the introduction of the Sedona seven-seat MPV, the Mentor II saloon, Shuma hatchback, and Clarus large sedan.

In 2000, a smaller MPV, the Carens, was added to the range alongside the Sedona, while the Rio supermini and Magentis saloon were introduced in 2001. 2002 saw the arrival of the Shuma II to the Kia UK line-up.

From 1991 to 2001, during its first decade in the UK, Kia sold a total of 55,903 vehicles.

Factory ownership

In August 2002, the factory took over the responsibility for importing Kia cars into the UK, and Kia Motors (UK) Limited was born. The headquarters moved to a new address at The Heights at Brooklands, Surrey, with Paul Williams appointed as Managing Director. The prestige offices overlooked the famous Brooklands racetrack and backed onto the museum.

The Sorento made its debut in the UK in February 2003. However, rather than launch its hugely capable new model in the UK, Kia embarked on its most ambitious event to date and took journalists to Morocco to sample the five-door SUV. The tough terrain proved that the Sorento could stand up to anything that could be thrown at it. Even today, the original Sorento is still well regarded as a hugely tough towing machine with a 3.5-tonne maximum towing weight.

Kia sold its 100,000th new car in the UK during 2004, the same year that the Picanto first went on sale. The Cerato hatchback and saloon arrived, too, followed by the new second-generation Sportage in early 2005. The second-generation Rio arrived at dealers in September 2005.

A new era of management

2006 marked a major step change for the brand in Europe. In June that year, the new Sedona arrived in showrooms and one month later, Peter Schreyer – famed designer of the Audi TT – was appointed as Chief Design Officer. In the UK, Paul Williams left the business in August 2006 and was replaced by Paul Philpott in February 2007. Philpott’s arrival coincided with one of Kia’s most significant launches of the decade, with the new cee’d arriving at UK showrooms.

The arrival of the cee’d also marked the launch of production at Kia Motors Slovakia. This major landmark saw the brand start production at its first European production plant, located in Žilina, Slovakia, and allowed the cee’d to offer Europe’s first factory-backed comprehensive seven-year warranty. Designed and engineered in Europe, for Europe, the name stands for ‘Community of Europe with European Design’. Later in the year, the second-generation Carens seven-seater appeared in dealerships.

A three-door version of the cee’d was launched early in 2008, named the pro_cee’d, adding a slightly sportier aspect to the line-up. It had a lower and longer stance in comparison to the five-door hatchback that had already made waves in Europe.

Scrappage

The 2008 recession impacted car sales dramatically, yet Kia continued to grow its market share. The UK Government introduced a scrappage scheme to stimulate sales in the car sector, offering a £2,000 allowance available to anyone buying a new car, and trading in a vehicle that was more than 10 years old. Half of the scrappage grant was funded by the government, the other half by vehicle manufacturers. Announced in April 2009 and introduced a month later, the scrappage scheme continued until February 2010.

Kia was well placed to take advantage of the offer, and in 2009, its new car registrations grew by almost 60 per cent to 50,649 units – the first time that the company had sold more than 50,000 units in the space of a year. Paul Philpott was promoted to Chief Operating Officer for Kia Motors Europe in June 2009, with Michael Cole replacing him as Managing Director in the UK.

2009 – Soul arrival

One of the most distinctive Kia models arrived in March 2009, with a range of distinctively designed versions bringing more colour and interest to the brand’s UK showrooms. The Kia Soul made its UK debut with models named ‘Burner’, ‘Samba’ and ‘Shaker’. A range of additional special editions were launched throughout its life, including the ‘Hunter’, ‘Echo’, ‘Inferno’, ‘Quantum’ and ‘Searcher’. In November 2009, Kia announced the introduction of its first direct injection petrol engine, named GDi (Gasoline Direct Injection) and based on the ‘Theta II’ engine family.

2010 and 2011 – seven-year warranty and a Reasonably Priced Car

In January 2010, Kia announced that it was extending its comprehensive warranty to cover all models in the European line-up, from the Picanto city car right through to the then-new second-generation Sorento SUV, due to make its debut the following month. Although UK Sorentos were supplied from Kia’s Hwaseong plant in South Korea, the second-generation Sorento was the first Kia to be made in the USA at the company’s newly completed West Point factory in Georgia. Just as the Sorento arrived in showrooms, another newcomer waited in the wings: the Europe-exclusive Kia Venga was launched in early 2010, offered with a choice of petrol or diesel engines.

In June 2010, the newly facelifted cee’d blasted onto television screens in a regular Sunday evening slot, as BBC Top Gear’s ‘Reasonably Priced Car’. For three years, the reasonably priced cee’d ‘2’ 1.6 manual was raced around the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, with celebrity drivers including Rowan Atkinson, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, John Bishop, Louis Walsh, Fiona Bruce, Bob Geldof, and Jonathan Ross to name but a few.

But it was American TV star and future Top Gear presenter Matt LeBlanc who topped the leader board, with a 1:42.1 lap time. Kia also provided a visually identical “cee-apostrophe-d” – as Jeremy Clarkson referred to it – with an automatic transmission for those who weren’t able to drive a manual, including Amber Heard, Alice Cooper, John Prescott and will.i.am. The wooden spoon went to Damian Lewis, who managed a lap time of 2:09.1 in the snow. During the three years that the cee’d played its role as Top Gear’s ‘Reasonably Priced Car’, a total of 41 stars found themselves behind the wheel.

Away from the glamour of Sunday evening television, the third-generation Sportage arrived in showrooms in August 2010, with a special First Edition selling out ahead of the regular model range arriving in November. This set the tone for many more future First Edition models that would arrive in the Kia stable.

The brand took another important step at the start of 2011, further enhancing awareness and contributing to the ongoing evolution of customers’ perceptions. On 1 January 2011, Kia announced its new partnership with Surrey County Cricket Club and its sponsorship of The Oval landmark. The partnership still exists today, more than a decade later, making it one of the longest in associations in English sport. The brand is synonymous today with the iconic stadium and its calendar of county, T20 and international matches.

Later that year, the second-generation Picanto and third-generation Rio were also unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, with UK sales of each commencing later that summer.

This second decade was significantly different compared to the first, thanks to increasingly competitive, well-designed cars, and presence in a greater number of vehicle segments than ever before. As a result, Kia UK’s 10-year sales between 2001 and 2011 had increased by 514% to 343,119 vehicles.

2012 and 2013 – reaching half a million UK sales

One of the first cars Kia launched in 2012 was the Optima. The new saloon boasted sharp styling, a punchy 134bhp 1.7-litre CRDi turbodiesel engine and a choice of four trim levels. January 2012 also marked the one millionth car rolling off the production line at Kia’s Žilina plant in Slovakia. In July 2012, Paul Philpott returned to the UK and became the first non-Korean President and Chief Executive Officer of any Kia subsidiary in Europe. Repeating history, his return to Kia UK coincided with the launch of the new cee’d, this time in its second generation. Closing the year, the Sorento gained a facelift, a strengthened bodyshell and revised styling, arriving at showrooms in December 2012.

The Carens was replaced with an all-new seven-seater in early 2013, with its international launch taking place a stone’s throw away from the F1 track in Monaco. Testament to how far Kia’s engineering prowess had come, the Carens excelled on the famous racetrack, albeit journalists were asked not to hit F1 speeds in the multi-purpose vehicle. The media were given access to a second car too, with the first drive of the second-generation pro_cee’d also taking place during the international media event.

Kia achieved a significant sales milestone in June 2013, selling its 500,000th new car since the brand’s arrival in the UK in 1991. In the same month, Kia’s pro_cee’d GT went on sale in the UK, powered by a 201bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine. With a top speed of 143mph, acceleration to 60mph takes 7.4 seconds.

A continued expansion of the business saw the company outgrow its Brooklands offices, with a move to a new three-storey headquarters at Walton Green, Surrey, in November 2013. The prestigious new address saw Kia’s head office double in size to 31,000 square feet, with space for up to five cars in a purpose-built ground-floor showroom.

2014 and 2015 – GTs and electrification

In February 2014, the cee’d GT arrived at showrooms with 201bhp and 265Nm of torque. The second edition of the Soul was also available to buy in UK showrooms from April 2014, with a choice of petrol and diesel engines.

The latest iteration of Kia’s largest car in the UK, the Sorento, went on sale in the UK on 1 April 2015, followed by the Soul EV – Kia’s first globally sold battery electric vehicle. The Soul EV initially went on sale in October 2015, and was later revised in 2017 with a larger 30kWh battery pack. The first step on the brand’s electrification journey, the Soul EV was joined by Kia’s second electric vehicle, the e-Niro in April 2019. July 2019 marked the introduction of the third-generation Soul, now sold exclusively in pure electric guise in Europe.

December 2015 marks the launch of the second-generation Optima saloon in the UK, which is sleeker, smoother and utilises even better-quality materials than before. The new Europe-only Optima Sportswagon joins the line-up the following September, at the same time as the plug-in hybrid saloon arrives in the UK. 12 months later, the Optima Sportswagon PHEV completes the line-up.

2016 and 2017 – three new best-sellers and the Stinger

The big-selling Sportage was replaced with a new model in February 2016 and this fourth-generation car has gone on to be the most popular iteration of the mid-sized SUV. In fact, in 2016, the Sportage set a sales record for the model with 40,083 examples registered in a single year, while in 2017, it came close to surpassing the figure with 39,683 cars registered. In April 2016, Kia celebrated the sale of its 750,000th model, with the landmark car a Sportage GT-Line.

Kia’s first purpose-built hybrid, the Niro, arrived in UK showrooms in July 2016, followed by plug-in hybrid and pure electric editions. Buyers took to the vehicle immediately and the Niro has subsequently become the second best-selling Kia vehicle behind the Sportage, with 18,530 units sold in 2020.

In December 2016, Kia celebrates ten years of producing cars in Europe, at its plant in Slovakia.

Just a few weeks into 2017, Kia dealers were readying themselves to receive stock of the fourth generation Rio, offered on sale from 1 February 2017 with a choice of petrol and diesel power. Its sister model, the Stonic – a new B-segment SUV – launched later that year. In March 2017, the new Picanto made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show. The third-generation Picanto was available to UK customers in the summer – and in 2021 is one of the UK’s best-sellers in the A-segment.

Before the year was out, Kia launched something rather special. The Stinger – the company’s new flagship fastback – hit showrooms in October 2017, with the range crowned by a 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine. With 360bhp on tap, a top speed of 168mph and acceleration to 60mph in 4.7 seconds, it called for a different kind of launch – and media were invited to max out the car on the live runway at Newquay Airport, with full approval from air traffic control.

2018 and 2019 – going electric

The Sportage hit five million global sales in March 2018, while an all-new Ceed family arrived early the same year, making its public debut at the Geneva Motor Show. As well as hatchback and Sportswagon estate versions, Kia unveiled a ProCeed five-door shooting brake as a third bodystyle. Replacing the earlier three-door pro_cee’d, the new model served as a more rakish, more practical successor, going on-sale across the UK at the start of 2019.

One of the most important cars in Kia’s current line-up was also revealed in 2018. The e-Niro was unveiled in May 2018, powered by a long-range 64kWh battery pack and capable of 282 miles from a single charge (WLTP, combined cycle). A marker of things to come from Kia, the e-Niro instantly won plaudits from across the industry for its blend of range, value, performance, and quality. It even topped the 2019 What Car? Car of the Year awards – making it the first electric car ever to win one of the most highly-regarded and influential new car prizes in the UK.

A major sales milestone was reached by Kia UK early in 2019: the brand announced that it had sold its one-millionth car in the UK. This was the result of an expanding model line-up and rapidly increasing popularity among British buyers.

May 2019 marked the introduction of the facelifted Niro as the hybrid and plug-in hybrid crossover continued to grow in popularity. A new stylish crossover was added to the Ceed model family in July 2019, named the XCeed. Initially sold in petrol and diesel guise, a plug-in hybrid version also arrived at the beginning of 2020.

A summer of sport for Kia UK, a special one-off Stinger was also created and revealed in July 2019, a track-only monster created in partnership with Hyundai Motor Europe’s technical centre in Rüsselsheim, Germany. Rather than send a pre-production Stinger to the crusher, a plan was hatched to repurpose it, with power increased from 360 to 422bhp and torque from 510 to 560Nm. The Stinger GT420 made its debut at the legendary Silverstone race circuit and has since toured UK dealerships up and down the country. More recently, it was exhibited at the 2021 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

2019 also marked Kia UK’s best-ever annual sales results for the eighth consecutive year, with 97,323 units sold across Britain.

2020

For obvious reasons, 2020 was a dramatic year in other ways, with the Covid-19 pandemic interrupting plans and lives worldwide.

The launch of the fourth-generation Sorento – electrified for the first time in its history – was the brand’s first-ever digital debut as a consequence of the 2020 Geneva Motor Show being cancelled. The new model was the most technologically advanced vehicle launched to-date by Kia, exhibiting a bold new expression of Kia’s evolving design language and a significant uplift in quality and performance. The car was eventually launched in the UK in September 2020, with a new Sorento Plug-in Hybrid added to the line-up in early 2021.

2021 and beyond

In January 2021, Kia unveiled a new brand identity, combined with its new ‘Movement that inspires’ slogan. The change marks a move beyond traditional vehicle manufacturing, to create more sustainable mobility solutions for its customers worldwide.  ‘Motors’ is dropped from the Kia Motors name used by Kia subsidiaries around the world – and in the UK, the company is officially renamed to Kia UK Limited. Alongside the new slogan and direction, the company also unveiled a new logo and corporate colour scheme, which now adorns the brand’s UK headquarters at Walton Green. The new identity is set to be rolled out across Kia’s UK-wide dealer network from the start of 2022 until mid-2024.

Having recorded a total of 399,022 sales during its first 20 years in the UK, the last 10 years have seen that figure grow even more significantly. Since 2011, Kia has now sold 812,449 vehicles in the UK, making up 67% – more than two thirds – of the company’s total UK sales to date.

Plan S and the future

The announcement of the brand identity coincided with the acceleration of the brand’s ‘Plan S’ strategy, which will see 11 new EV models from Kia by 2026 – seven built on the new Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) architecture, and four derivative EVs based on other models. The first of these new models, the EV6, was revealed in March 2021 and is set to arrive in UK showrooms from October 2021. As the company’s first dedicated electric vehicle, it offers long range, zero emissions, and ultra-fast 800V charging.

In May 2021, Kia also revealed the first images of the new Sportage, due on sale in the UK in early 2022. The news coincided with the announcement that the four millionth Kia had rolled off the production line at its European plant in Žilina – predictably, the landmark car was a Sportage.

Both the EV6 and new Sportage will help to fulfil Kia’s mid-to-long term strategy for BEVs, PHEVs and HEVs to make up 40 per cent of the brand’s total global sales by 2030. The company has an annual global sales target of 1.6 million units for such eco-friendly models – and as part of this, Kia aims to grow its BEV sales to 880,000 units in 2030 and become a top global seller. Purpose-Built Vehicles (PBVs) also form a key pillar of Plan S, with the company due to reveal a range of vehicles specifically targeted at certain types of business customers. The first such vehicle will be revealed in due course.


Kia UK: sales at a glance
Kia UK: sales at a glance
YearNumber of vehicles sold
19911,786
19923,749
19934,555
19944,022
19954,045
19964,948
19975,676
19982,910
19996,386
200011,523
200112,183
200212,351
200321,177
200433,419
200539,749
200635,857
200729,423
200831,373
200950,649
201056,114
201153,614
201266,629
201372,090
201477,525
201578,536
201689,364
201793,304
201895,751
201997,323
202070,537
202145,277 (First 6 months)
1,211,845
Kia UK: sales by decade
DecadeNumber of vehicles soldPercentage of total sales
1991-200155,9035%
2001-2011343,11928%
2011-2021812,44967%
Q&A with Paul Philpott

We take a trip down memory lane with President and CEO Paul Philpott, as we look back on 30 years of Kia in the UK …

You’ve had a long and distinguished career in the motor industry, and joined Kia UK in February 2007. Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I graduated from Loughborough University with a finance degree and did a middle year placement within the financial sector. But my first job after leaving university was at Ford, rising through the ranks at the company’s head office in Brentwood for nine years, before moving to Toyota, where I became Commercial Director. I joined Kia on 6 February 2007.

What were your first thoughts when you walked through the door on the first day at Kia?

There were three reasons I left a respectable career with Toyota – one of the world’s most well-regarded and biggest car companies – to join the then-small Korean budget brand. One was that European production had just started, with big investment, and the company was set to grow.

Secondly, Peter Schreyer had just joined from Audi and was making all the right noises about the clean sheet of paper that he had to redesign the Kia range.

And thirdly, the fact that this Korean company had just announced its first European car with a seven-year manufacturer’s warranty – it was “money where your mouth is” time, and Kia was serious about getting the quality right. It all came at a time when I was looking for something that was slightly more entrepreneurial than working for the world’s largest car manufacturer.

I went in with my eyes open and knew that the business was not in great shape. They lost money in 2006 and sales were declining. The two things that hit me on day one were the huge staff turnover and revolving doors in the dealer network. It was a baptism of fire. I came in and there were lots of willing and capable people that needed a clear vision and strategy of where they were going as a company. They desperately wanted Kia to succeed, but weren’t really sure how to do it. The business could be turned around, so three weeks into my job, I went off to Korea to ask for the time and resources to do it. Thankfully they said ‘yes’.

We put into place some solid foundations from which to grow. We took our time in 2007 and 2008 – you won’t see much growth in the business during those two years – and strengthened the management team. You have to have the right people around you, to build a clear vision and strategy for the future.

Secondly, we focused on ensuring that dealers had a profitable business model, and on day one we stopped any more pre-registrations – before I arrived, I think 40 per cent of Kia’s UK sales were pre-registered. That had to stop, and that’s why the volume didn’t move forward in the first year or two – that volume had to go through the system in order to build a stronger brand image and for the dealers to start making greater return on their investment. It also meant treating our dealers like proper business partners and painting a clear picture of where the business was heading.

Kia was a brand waiting to happen. With European production of the first-generation cee’d and the arrival of Peter Schreyer, we had a really good story to tell – but no one was telling it. The business was instead concerned about how it was going to hit the next month’s sales target, or how many cars needed to be pre-registered, or how many cars they were going to force into the market for rentals. It meant drawing a line under what had been done before, buying some time with Kia Motors Corporation to turn things around, and then setting out solid foundations for the business, focusing on the brand, our dealer network and our customers.

Those were the three things that ultimately led to the start of growth in 2008. 2007 saw us getting the basics right, and in 2008 we started to consider our longer term growth. Then we got lucky, with the arrival of the UK Government’s Scrappage Scheme in 2009, which built volume rapidly thanks to the positive impact on A- and B-segment car sales. We grew the business by about 40 per cent in one year, but it was business that was sustainable. Any growth like that is not usually sustainable. What we had to build was growth that looked at next year, and the year after, and make sure that the actions we took did not constrain us for future years. And that was what the business had previously wrestled with, trying to fix short term problems with little or no focus on the longer term.

Is there a time with Kia that you’re most proud of?

Looking back, the period between 2007 and 2012, when design really leapt ahead, and we were changing our business model in the UK, was a really rewarding time to be involved. Peter Schreyer was given a clean sheet of paper and changed the face of Kia on the road. He was also focused on what the rear end of Kia cars should look like, as that’s what most people will see. This meant a simplified, recognisable design, to make our cars look like a Kia – and he established a face for Kia, with the ‘tiger nose’ motif.

During that time, developments in design sometimes outpaced the speed of development in engineering. But what’s been exciting to watch in recent years, up to the launch of e-Niro, is how rapidly our engineering has progressed. As with the EV6, I think we’re now getting a perfect balance between outstanding design and outstanding engineering. Both design and engineering are now central pillars of the Kia brand.

The seven-year warranty has also been a key part of our growth story. Launched with the first-generation cee’d, and then rolled out to Venga and Sportage, it became a standard feature on all of our cars from 2010. That gave customers permission to consider Kia – they no longer struggled to justify why they bought a Kia, especially when many other manufacturers only offer only a three-year warranty.

Kia previously had a target of selling 100,000 cars, but that got disrupted by Covid. What are the new plans for hitting that number?

We nearly got there in 2019, selling 97,323 cars. Since I’ve been at Kia, we’ve had two targets to balance. One is sales volume and the other is profit. We could have got to 100,000 in 2019, of course we could, but that would have impacted on future years, because we would have been forcing cars out. This would have meant more marginal, less profitable business and, ultimately, a negative impact on residual values. Now we have a third issue to balance, and that’s CO2.

We could sell 100,000 vehicles in 2022, but I think we would have to grow electric vehicle sales even more dramatically than we’re planning in order to grow volume that quickly. Now, we’re in the middle of creating a new five-year plan that would see us get to 100,000 by 2023. We’ve taken this four-year period, aiming for sales in the mid-90,000s – with the exception of 2020 and the impacts of Covid – to make sure we’re in good shape for future growth.

Are there any dealers that are still with Kia from the early days?

Very much so. At the last dealer conference, we celebrated a number of 25-year awards with the franchise. Our two Channel Islands dealers, as an example, have been with us since the beginning – Forest Road Garage in Guernsey and Bel Royal Motors in Jersey both date back to 1991. Our network is remarkably settled, and we have a lot of dealers that have completed 20 years with us. I have to say that the first decade with us will have been totally different to the last decade. Two other dealers that have been with us right from the start are Leslies Kia in Cowes on the Isle-of-Wight, and Draycotts in Sutton-in-Ashfield.

Have there been any Kia models that have surprised you?

The Sportage, without question. The growth we achieved with the third-generation car really lit the blue touch paper. We went from less than 10,000 cars to more than 20,000 units in a short period of time. Then the fourth generation came along in 2016 and our best year was just over 40,000 units. The design got better and the quality was enhanced, and I think it hit the sweet spot for UK drivers. Our strategy maintained residual values too, so at various times in its lifecycle, people who bought a Sportage on PCP could renew into the next generation car for a very similar monthly payment.

I think I also have to say e-Niro. We weren’t the first to market with a ‘mass market’ EV, but we were able to introduce a small-to-medium SUV with an electric powertrain at a time when  customers didn’t want to compromise usability in their pursuit of zero emissions. This year we will sell between 11-12,000 units, from a standing start two years ago. It’s staggering.

You are a multi award winner and you’ve claimed most industry awards that are up for grabs. You’ve been named a Euro Star by Automotive News Europe, given an Outstanding Achievement award by Motor Trader, and received the accolade of being an Outstanding Leader by Autocar, amongst a host of other awards. What’s the secret of your success?

It’s about having a really good team around me. I couldn’t have done any of this without a very settled, committed and ambitious team, who challenge me in a way that is aligned with the aims of the business. I think a lot of our success has been around long-term leadership, and having personally worked for a global US manufacturer for the first nine years of my working life, and then for the largest Japanese manufacturer for ten years, then in the UK and Europe for Kia, it has given me an all-round perspective of what can work and what doesn’t.

I have been really lucky in my career, in that I have worked for three strong manufacturers, all different, with varying strengths and weaknesses, but none more ambitious than Kia. I’ve also been very lucky to work with some great people. Combined, this has created an entrepreneurial opportunity for the brand and given me space to develop, to take all the good things at Ford and Toyota and bring those together in a strategy that can work long-term for Kia.

There are exciting plans for Kia to dominate the electric vehicle world. The EV6 launches in October, what are your first impressions of it?

My impressions almost don’t matter, as we’ve already got 1,000 sold orders for the EV6 four months ahead of its launch! For us, this is unprecedented. No customers have sat in it, seen it in the metal, or driven it, but they have seen the design and the electric vehicle capabilities and are instantly attracted by it. We’ve had one in the office recently and everyone that sees it says, “Wow, I love that car.” “It’s the best EV I’ve seen yet”, is the comment that quite frequently comes back. Not only does it perform exceptionally well as an electric vehicle, but there’s absolutely no compromise with it.

The interior space is brilliant, there’s good luggage space, and an interior design that impresses. It will play an important role in establishing Kia as a true leader in electrified cars. e-Niro has done wonderful things for us, of course, establishing us as a leader in EVs with long and credible driving ranges. But I think EV6 adds a real halo to the range. It adds a whole new level of aspiration to Kia.

Kia has rebranded for 2021 with a strong new image, and your UK head office already has the new livery. How long until we start seeing dealers with the new black and white logos?

In the second half of the year, we are piloting an installation at Bolton Kia, which will be as close to the final design as possible. We’ll then test it, see if it works, and assess whether any alterations are required. The roll-out phase to other dealerships will begin in January next year. This process of working with our dealers to update the whole network will probably take up to two-and-a-half years to roll-out, from the beginning of 2022 until mid-2024.

Many of your competitors are developing online sales models and cutting out dealerships. Is that a route you are going down?

It’s a really interesting question, because those that have gone down the online route for new cars are not seeing any return on their investment right now. We strongly believe in a partnership with our dealers, so anything online has to support our dealer network. It’s a lot to expect for customers to make such a large purchasing decision based solely on an online impression, and many won’t decide to buy until they can drive a car on roads that they know. It’s little things, too, like finding out what’s it like to reverse into a space using our reversing cameras.

This crystallises my view that dealers are here for the long term. I want people to go and see the Kia range. I want customers to visit a dealer to touch, see, smell and experience our cars. If you think EV6 looks good in the pictures, wait until you sit in it. Wait and see how muscular it looks when you’re standing next to it. You can’t get that online, even from the very best imagery. You’ve got to put the customer next to the car and in the car and the best place to do that is at our own branded dealerships. Yes, we’re looking at all sorts of online innovations for the future, but they will absolutely be in partnership with our dealers. Ultimately, our responsibility is to drive customers to want to test drive our products at our dealers.

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