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2020 Kia TellurideThe transformation of Kia might be one of the most interesting automotive stories in the last decade.  They’re a company that had humble beginnings, but seemingly out of nowhere has become one of the darlings of the automotive press.  They consistently rank high in quality surveys by industry experts and have won numerous recent automotive awards, the name somehow becoming a synonym for reliability, quality and cutting-edge technology. This is an auto maker on a major winning streak.  JD Power, one of the most renowned and trusted companies for automotive-related data analytics and consumer intelligence in the US has given Kia the number one spot on their Initial Quality Survey for mainstream auto brands for five years in a row.

In addition, Kia has just recently won 4 of the eleven “2020 Best Cars for the Money” awards from US News and World Report. That performance is particularly noteworthy when you consider the other winning brands with fewer award totals. Toyota with three, Honda with two, and Hyundai and Chevrolet who received one each.

What Kia has accomplished in recent years is quite ambitious, but how has this automaker-whose reputation was less than stellar just about a decade ago, come to reside at the opposite end of the automotive spectrum?  Here is a little history and some convincing details about the Kia quality that is so much sought for these days.

Transformation Part I: Design

Back at the end of the last millennium, Kia models were known for being affordable, and the accolades stopped there. Their exterior appearance was uninspiring, and their construction materials were quite heavy, an aspect that significantly diminished performance. Then something very important happened. In 2006 Kia hired Peter Schreyer as their Chief Design Officer.  Mr. Schreyer had previously worked at Audi and was the designer who created the industry darling Audi TT, among many other successful vehicles. With the new CDO in place, things at Kia started to change quickly. New models became more attractive, the interiors started to become more comfortable, the materials used in the cabin were of higher quality, the available tech packages embarked on a road to sophistication and the powertrain and drivetrain solutions also became more compelling. Success was quick to follow – back in 2005, the manufacturer’s market share was 1.62%, while today Kia’s share of the extremely competitive SUV and sedan market has more than doubled to 3.53%. And all this growth has been achieved by Kia maintaining prices at very competitive levels.  Then in 2018, they made another important hire, internationally renowned designer Luk Donckerwolke who had previously been responsible for many of the gorgeous designs at Bentley and Lamborghini.  This new, all-star caliber design team has come up with a brand wide design language for Kia (and sister brands Hyundai and Genesis) that ranks with the best in the industry.

Transformation Part II Quality

Willingness to invest into research and technology, attention to detail, and meticulously strict testing procedures are the secrets of the Kia quality. The 2000’s started for Kia with a huge investment into evaluating weaknesses and correcting quality issues through revisited industrial design and material choice and the process continued with the development of state-of-the-art manufacturing processes to minimize faults. Today, all Kia buyers can be sure that they will be happy with the quality of their new car because each and every Kia gets tested before being sold. Not batches that get spot tested, not models that get random tested; each new Kia is driven for a specific number of miles and is offered to buyers only if the testing is completed with great results. Kia bodies are also regularly hand-tested for sanding faults or for other issues that would hinder their perfect exterior appearance.

Automotive Experts Recognize Kia With Multiple Awards

The Kia brand, and individual models have won dozens of awards recently and the JD Power Quality Awards mentioned earlier are just the tip of the iceberg.  The new Telluride SUV has won everything from the Design Innovation Award to the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year award, and plenty of others in between.  Kia has been the recipient of an astonishing twenty-six individual automotive awards in the last 12 months alone.

And when it comes to safety, the best place to look is to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  For vehicles available throughout the US, there is no brand that has more Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus awards combined.  While it’s clear that Kia has been paying attention to design and engineering, they also recognize that safety is high on the list for US customers and they’ve obviously paid close attention to that fact.

The South-Korean automaker is doing an excellent job in maintaining the high-quality standards it has developed – small wonder the Kia quality is today something that more and more buyers turn to and that more and more automotive rating and reviewing agencies are recognizing.  Kia seems to be just finding their footing.  It will be interesting to see where they go from here.