Kia was a relative latecomer to the Canadian automotive market. Now it’s outpacing brands whose strong presence in Canada goes back decades.
Kia Motor Corporation first entered the Canadian market in May of 1999, shipping its first models to Vancouver before expanding nationwide. In its first full year, 2000, the company offered only two models, selling approximately 15,000 across the country.
Nearly 18 years later, Kia Canada and its 190 dealers from coast to coast celebrated the sale of 750,000 cars this past September. With that sale, Kia set a new record in the Canadian market, becoming the fastest car manufacturer to reach three quarters of a million sales in the country.
“As one of the mainstream brands in Canada now, our goal is to get up to that one million level,” said Ted Lancaster, the vice president and chief operating officer of Kia Canada Inc. “We have a goal to do that by 2020, and I think we can.”
Mr. Lancaster’s confidence is anything but blind optimism, given the momentum the manufacturer has built in recent years. In 2016, Kia’s vehicles were awarded a number of top honours. Kia’s top ranking in the rigorous J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Initial Quality Study marked the first time in 27 years that a non-luxury brand has led the industry in that metric.
Using 100 drivers over a period of 90 days, the study looks at the number of problems they have with the car between when they drive it off the lot and when they return it. The lower the manufacturer’s score, the fewer problems drivers can expect. The score is a way to foreshadow how vehicles will do over their lifespan.
Some of the most expensive and well-known car models on the market had scores in the 90s, 100s and above. Only two had scores in the 80s, and Kia had the absolute lowest at just 83.
“In addition to its industry-leading performance this year, Kia produces two award-recognized models,” adds the report, naming the 2016 Kia Soul and Sportage as category leaders.
Mr. Lancaster says the brand’s recent successes are a result of gradual developments, incremental improvements and an overall focus on quality.
“While it was a nice surprise and a great result for us as a brand, we were second the year before, only slightly behind one of the luxury manufacturers,” he said. “It wasn’t as if we came out of nowhere and jumped to number 1; we’ve climbed from mid-pack to top ten, to top five, to second and now to first.”
Maybe the best example of these is improvements is Kia’s game-changing new model, the Stinger. Unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this January, the sports sedan takes direct aim at the luxury brands Kia is already beating in initial quality rankings.
Kia Canada’s Trophy Cabinet
Kia Canada’s award-winning design made industry leaders sit up and take notice in 2016.
The new model, which hits the market in late 2017, represents the organization’s bold strategy: integrating industry-leading quality with eye-catching design that outshines pricier competitors.
“It’s a statement that we are absolutely here to compete with anybody, both on a global level and right here in Canada,” says Mr. Lancaster, adding that it’s “a very fun vehicle to drive.”
With an exterior that could be easily mistaken for some of the most expensive luxury cars on the road and an engine that will reach 100km/h in 5.1 seconds, Mr. Lancaster adds that consumers can expect an “aggressive” price point, especially when compared to models with similar specs offered by other brands.
“Kia is driven to ensure that every aspect of design and quality are exceeded when compared to the competition,” he said. “It’s very pleasing for me as an individual, and for the team here, to be part of an organization that is driven that way. I think that’s why we see such positive results.”
The company cemented its commitment to the North American market this summer when it opened the doors to its newest plant in Mexico. The plant has already begun producing the Forte and will build 2018 Rio models for North American consumers.
“The product quality out of that plant has been great,” said Mr. Lancaster. “Globally, Kia Motors has done a great job showing their commitment to the North American market and providing a product that is built with Canadians in mind.”
Sales figures suggest that Canadians agree. When it comes to year-over-year growth, Kia was the third best volume manufacturer in the country in 2016, and the top performer overall in December.
“I’m very excited about the future of the organization, and thankful for what Kia Motors Corporation, and our president and CEO of Kia Canada, Mr. Yoon, has done to help grow the business here which has added to the success of the company,” adds Mr. Lancaster.
Kia’s growing list of awards, coupled with strong sales figures and a new sports sedan that stands shoulder to shoulder with high-end luxury brands suggest the company is only just getting started.
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This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Edge Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.