Car company of the decade?

Mike Rutherford of the Telegraph in London has selected his ‘car company of the decade‘.  His choice may surprise many.

Several mainstream manufacturers are in contention to become my car company of the decade, as I believe Skoda was in the previous 10 years. They include such marques as Audi and Jaguar Land Rover, but only one company is deserving of the accolade, and that’s Kia.

The South Korean company has dragged itself from near insolvency to become a respected leader on the world’s automotive stage. Currently, it’s the eighth biggest car maker on the planet, or fifth largest if you include its sister company Hyundai.

Last year, Kia’s 47,000 employees built almost twice as many cars as all the home-grown and foreign manufacturers in Britain put together. But although production volume matters, product quality, desirability, pricing and warranties matter much more. And it is in these important areas where Kia not only competes with its mainstream rivals but wipes the floor with some of them.

Skoda enjoyed a massive transformation after the VW Group acquired control in 1994. Kia hasn’t been transformed, it has been revolutionised. It remains 100 per cent South Korean, as does Hyundai, which is supposed to be bigger, better and more upmarket than Kia, but isn’t really because it’s not as hungry… or vibrant.

While Hyundai is comparatively silent about what it’s up to, and makes only half-hearted and optimistic suggestions that it wants to become the next BMW, a bullish Kia told me in Seoul that it accepts that it’s not perceived well by many potential customers. But it insists that it has already caught up with the quality levels of rival manufacturers in neighbouring Japan. And it’s moving onwards and upwards to wage war on its next victims.

. . .

Kia is indeed on the rise. In 1970 it produced only 6,775 vehicles. Thirty years later annual production hit one million. Last year it was 2.5 million. There are only 49 million people in South Korea (compared with 127 million in Japan), so there’s a desperate shortage of home-grown workers, which means that Chinese, American, Slovakian Brazilian, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Russian workers have had to be recruited to man Kia-built car factories on their own soil.

There’s more at the link.

I’m a little surprised at his choice, but from an uninformed perspective.  I’ve never driven a Kia vehicle, and having always seen them advertised at much lower prices than their competitors, I’d assumed the company was in the low-cost, low-quality market.  This article certainly provides solid evidence that’s not the case.

Do any readers have experience of driving Kia vehicles?  If so, please let us know in Comments how you’ve experienced them.  Do you agree with Mr. Rutherford’s accolades?



  1. I have several friends who own Kia's. The Sportage is actually a decent mid size SUV with decent rough road capability. Not much in the way of serious off road, but for gravel and dir raods they are more than adequate.

  2. They used to be f dubious quality, but all the ones (rentals) I've driven in the last 2 or 3 years have been average to above average….but how heavily does the Korean government subsidise them? It's not sensible to make direct comparisons between a free market economy company and one which is underwritten by the state – so a direct comparison to Ford for example would be inappropriate…GM and Chrysler, however….

  3. The first time I ever saw a Kia dealership I looked up at their sign and read "Killed In Action."

    Never was, in light of that, very interested in their product.

    I might be older and wiser enough to get over that now! 😉


  4. Their cars deliver a LOT of value for the money. Look at the list of 'standard equipment' on the US-built Optima sedan and compare to any US competitor. Value-to-price cannot be beaten.

    Yes, I've driven a few. Handle nicely, no untoward experiences at all.

  5. I had a "1st generation" Optima as a month-long rental about 10 years ago.

    I'd had V6's of similar displacement that seemed much more powerful. I'd driven cars of similar size that handled much better.

    But both the handling and power were fine for a typical mid-size four-door sedan. The transmission was great. There were useful storage cubbyholes all over the place. The controls were well thought out and ergonomic. The styling was — well, since few knew of Kia in that region, some colleagues thought I was driving a Jag.

    When I saw the resale value for recent models at that time, it went right to the top of my list for a car to purchase used should I need to buy a car.

    I suspect that they've only grown better in the meantime.

  6. Kia/Hyundai are the Chevy/Buick/Olds/GMC/Pontiac (or Chrysler/Dodge or Ford/Mercury) of S Korea. They are are actually the same company, with identical models for sale, although Hyundai seems to focus more on upper scale models. I have a 2008 Hyundai Entourage. It is identical in every meaningful way to the Kia minivan, down to the tail lights. The difference is the options available.

    I can't speak for everyone, but I can speak to the ones I've driven and the people I know who own them. They are very nice vehicles and excellent quality for the money spent. My only complaint–gas mileage on my 01 Grand Caravan was better. Not by a huge amount, but better.

    But the fit and finish of the Entourage blows the Dodge out of the water. It's quieter, with way better design, more powerful engine, better AC, everything. I would buy the Entourage again tomorrow, no hesitation.

    I would buy another Kia/Hyundai again.

  7. When I met my wife she was driving a 2007 Kia Rondo. It's a CUV / sub-Minivan-ish type vehicle. I was surprised to find out just how roomy it was and how well it ran. Great little car. In 2010 my stepdaughter wrecked it (not her fault) and I am happy to report that they stand up to a wreck quite nicely. By that I mean that slamming into another car at 50mph totaled the car but a 17 year old girl with Osteogenesis Imperfecta ("brittle bone" disease) walked away with nothing more than a bloody nose from the airbag and a bruise from the seatbelt.

    I replaced it with a 2009 Rondo, and would happily stick with that model except that it apparently didn't sell well enough in the US. 2010 was the last model year they sold it in the US.

    They both made for comfortable drives from Nashville to northern Florida and back, and that's coming from a man of *ahem* substance.

  8. I've had occasion to drive Kias as rentals several times over the last couple years, twice for extended periods while my vehicles were being repaired (teenage drivers, don't you know). I would unhesitatingly recommend them as quality cars in performance and manufacture. I'll take them over a Chrysler or GM any day, and I think they rival Ford's best as well. Definitely on my list for my next car purchase.

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