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Opinion

“Why rivals don’t ‘borrow’ Kia’s successful business model is beyond me”

Kia’s sales success in the UK is no surprise to Mike Rutherford, who predicted the Korean brand’s rise ten years ago

Opinion - Kia

In the Summer of 2012, the editor of a national newspaper asked me to nominate and write about the car company of the decade.

I named Kia. Oh, how some ‘experts’ laughed. But who’s laughing now? Precisely 10 years later, guess which firm has just taken over the No.1 slot in the UK new-car sales charts? Only little ol’ Kia. 

During the first quarter of 2022 it outsold Ford (market leader here for almost half a century) and Volkswagen (the heir apparent – or maybe not), plus far wealthier parent company, Hyundai (oops – that wasn’t supposed to happen).

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Collectively, Japanese-owned Nissan, German-owned MINI and Indian-owned Jaguar – firms with state-of-the art-plants and design studios in Britain – aren’t selling as many cars to UK motorists as Kia of South Korea is. This despite the fact that it still has no factory or designers on British soil.      

So how has humble Kia beaten off ‘superior’ opposition from firms across the globe in order to nick that No.1 spot? Simple. It had, and still has, the right youngish bloke – Eui-sun Chung – at the helm. True, as the son of Mong-koo Chung (the big daddy of the huge Hyundai Motor Group) Eui-sun was born privileged. But he’s a top bloke (I know because I’ve shared a beer with him) and he’s done a fine job since recently taking over the entire HMG empire from his ’pa. And, crucially, he seems to be treating Hyundai and Kia more as equals, less as headliner and support act.

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Chung Jnr. played a blinder by recruiting engineering/handling god Albert Biermann from BMW’s M Division. He pulled another masterstroke by replacing one of the world’s greatest designers (the retiring German Peter Schreyer) with another great (Luc Donckerwolke, Belgium’s most talented man and newly crowned World Car-Person of the Year). Also, when he needed guidance and advice on the press and public relations fronts, Chung Jnr. sought and listened to Kia’s wisest and most experienced PR guru (Brit Stephen Kitson, who spent years in Korea).

Put another way, the younger Chung saw to it that Kias are increasingly entertaining to drive, look the part, are fit to win global awards, and boast levels of quality and reliability that give him the confidence to slap seven-year warranties on them.

The icing on the cake is that he hasn’t preached to customers. He’s of the view that if they want ICE cars, they can have ‘em. He’ll also happily supply EVs. If you prefer a hybrid, no problem. Oh, and if and when there’s a demand for hydrogen Kias, you’ll be able to buy them because he’s been designing, building and using ’em for yonks.

Kia is a textbook example of a brave, young, once-troubled company that’s unapologetically searched the world to recruit the right, highly paid professionals who rapidly engineer, design, build and sell the right cars equipped with the right tech at the right time – and blessed with the right warranties.

Click here for our list of the best-selling cars in the UK in 2022...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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