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Is Kia Finally Ready to Compete?

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"I believe the car is a strong statement from Kia: we are ready to fast forward to an all new chapter."

So says Peter Schreyer, Kia Motors Chief Design Officer, of the automaker's new rear-wheel drive four-door coupe concept car:

Of the as-yet unnamed design, auto blog Car Scoop says the stakes have been raised and it "should be quite clear to everyone now that Hyundai and its Kia affiliate have lifted the bar and are now looking to compete with brands that used to shun them."

Kia was also recognized for design in late July, when it chalked up four wins in four categories at the German Design Council's first-ever Automotive Brand Contest -- on top of winning the Red Dot Design Award, the International Forum Design Award, and the Good Design Awards in 2010.

The South Korean company has also created thousands of US manufacturing jobs, giving withered mill towns like West Point, Georgia a new lease on life.

From the Newnan (GA) Times-Herald:

Kia Georgia started with one shift of workers producing the SUV Sorento vehicle. Soon a second shift was added with employment reaching around 2,000 workers.

Last year, Kia announced it would begin assembling a second vehicle in West Point, the Optima car. The company began hiring for this expansion in February, and the first Optimas are expected to roll off the assembly line later this year.

By the end of this year, Kia expects to have a workforce of 3,000.

Kia also caused many suppliers to locate in Troup County and in other areas along the I-85 corridor. This week some of those suppliers say they are considering expanding their workforces to meet the demands of Kia assembling the Optima in West Point.

Indeed, landing Kia has been the top new economic development news in our state. The gigantic plant itself and the spin-off suppliers have dramatically impacted the economic development landscape along the I-85 corridor from Atlanta to Montgomery.

Engines as economic engine...

While Kia may now be ready to take on Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, South Korea's hapless/Stalinist/nuclear armed neighbor to the north hasn't had much success of its own in the automotive category.

As Justin Berkowitz of Car & Driver explained last year, "Thanks to the glory of communism, North Korea has what might be one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the world. Although the government doesn’t release official stats, the best estimate is that there are fewer than 30,000 vehicles on the road -- in a country of nearly 24 million people. (Officially, private citizens can’t own cars, but those with government ties manage to.) You are more likely to know somebody with a private jet than a North Korean is to know somebody with a car. But that doesn’t mean the country’s few cars are boring. In addition to the standard-issue black S-class, North Korea has some of the wackiest cars on the planet."

Exhibit A: the Pyeonghwa Motors Whistle:

The company, a joint venture between North Korea and Sun-Myung Moon's Unification Church, began production in 2002 -- prompting the Kim regime to erect the country's first billboard in a society where advertising does not exist.

Oh, what a feeling -- Pyeonghwa!

Hmmm...maybe not.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.