Kia Amplifies American Production Commitment, Shifts Sportage to Georgia

If you buy a new Kia this year, chances are increasingly likely that it came off the assembly line right here in America.

This month, Kia America began production of its 2023 Sportage at Kia Georgia, the company's American manufacturing base. Located near the Georgia-Alabama border in West Point, Georgia, the manufacturing facility also builds the Telluride SUV, Sorento SUV and K5 sedan.

In an interview with Newsweek, Kia Georgia president and CEO Stuart Countess said that the move shows that Kia values the quality of work that takes place at the plant and supporting the local communities.

"It provides more job opportunities and growth, not only for our factory but certainly the surrounding community, which includes our supply base," he said.

The 2,200-acre facility, which currently employs 2,700 people, opened in 2009 and has become the largest employer in the area. They plan on adding hundreds of jobs in order to support the increased levels of production.

Despite the variety of vehicles built at the facility, they're all built on the same production line.

"We run a single production line," Countess explained. "We have flexibility to schedule our vehicles in any order that we need to build them based on consumer demand. The things that we have prepared for is looking at how to add additional parts that support (the Sportage)."

This kind of production flexibility has allowed Kia to weather the ongoing chip shortage. In 2021, the company sold about 701,000 vehicles in total. That represents double digit sales growth over the previous three years.

2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid
The Kia Sportage Hybrid gets up to 39 mpg in front wheel drive. Kia America

He says that employees at the plant are trained to monitor quality from the outset of the manufacturing process, making sure that quality is the focus from the beginning of the build process to the various tests they perform upon completion.

It's similar to what Stellantis has done to improve the quality of its Jeep products, where increased quality checks and tests are of the utmost priority at its Detroit Assembly Complex.

That's a far cry from Kia's entrance to the American market in the early 90s. For years, the brand languished at the bottom of reliability surveys.

David Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at J.D. Power, told Newsweek that Kia's reputation has come a long way since then, especially in the last 15 years.

He remembers common customer complaints being "fit and finish, squeaks and rattles, excessive noises, possibly some mechanical issues".

According to the website KiaComplaints, which tracks common mechanical problems and recalls, the Sportage has been subject to 23 recalls since it was first introduced. The Sorento and Sedona aren't far behind with 21 and 19 recalls, respectively.

For comparison, the Honda CR-V SUV has been subject to 11 recalls since 2017. In that same time frame, the Toyota Sienna minivan has had 13 recalls while the Nissan Pathfinder SUV has had six.

After Kia filed for bankruptcy in 1997, Hyundai bought a controlling stake in the company. This led to billions of dollars of investments that would eventually make its way into quality control. Kia is still under the Hyundai Motor Group's umbrella today.

In 2008, Kia introduced the 10 year/100,000-mile warranty, one of the longest warranties on the market today.

Since 2016, the brand's cars have scored high in annual J.D. Power Initial Quality and Dependability awards.

Kia is, "probably the brand that had the furthest to come and, frankly, is the brand that has improved - by far - the most over the last 10 to 15 years," Sargent said.

The automaker's increasing focus on the American market puts a lot of emphasis on its American manufacturing. Countess says that Kia Georgia makes more than 40 percent of the company's cars that are sold in the U.S.

"The U.S. market is extremely important to Kia," he said. "It's the largest market and growing tremendously. So I think the dedication to not only having this plant here but continuing to put very popular products of the brand into this facility also shows the dedication to grow the Kia brand in the U.S."

This year, Countess expects the plant to build 361,000 vehicles in total.

In 2021, the Kia Sportage was one of the best-selling cars in the Kia lineup, with more than 94,000 sold. The Telluride, an increasingly popular three-row SUV, wasn't far behind with about 93,000 units sold.

The K5 and the Sorento were also popular models, with about 92,000 and 81,000 sold, respectively.