Morgan Pritchett
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The History of Kia: From Bicycle Parts to the Future of EVs

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2021 Kia Seltos tire wheel rim
Kia has come a long way since 1944

For more than 50 years, Kia has produced millions of vehicles — some of which are still being driven today in places like India, Mexico, Europe, and America. But have you ever wondered how Kia got its start? You probably know the brand is originally from South Korea, but there’s plenty more to learn about this global automaker.


Historic Contribution: Kia recently donated $1 million to help aid homeless youth in America


The beginning

In December 1944, the Kyungsung Precision Industry was founded as a manufacturer of bicycle parts and steel tubing. By 1951, the company had produced Korea’s very first full-sized bicycle. Just one year later, the company changed its name to Kia Industries and then started building Honda-licensed motorcycles in 1957 and Mazda-licensed trucks in 1962. But it wasn’t until 1974 that Kia started making its own vehicles at its Sohari Plant, starting with the Brisa lineup, which lasted until 1981. Due to industry consolidation enforced by military dictator Chun Doo-hwan, Kia was only able to produce trucks until 1986.

Coming to America

After a 1986 partnership with Ford was deemed a huge success, Kia Motors America was created in 1992. The first Kia vehicle sold in the U.S. was the Sephia, a compact four-door sedan. The Sportage SUV arrived not long after to expand the Kia lineup in America. Unfortunately, the Asian financial crisis caused Kia to declare bankruptcy in 1997. But thanks to some aggressive bidding, Hyundai was able to take 51-percent control of the company, beating out Kia’s former partner, Ford. The Optima was introduced to the Kia lineup a few years later in 2000 and is still sold today at dealerships nationwide.

Recent years

In 2009, Kia opened up its manufacturing plant in West Point, Georgia. The second-generation Sorento was the first vehicle produced there, but the plant expanded to the creation of the fourth-gen Optima in 2016 and the new Telluride SUV this year. Around the world, Kia has more than 10 plants in locations like India, Vietnam, Slovakia, China, Mexico, Pakistan, and South Korea. It also has design facilities — where all of those exciting Kia concepts are created — in California, Germany, China, and South Korea.

2020 Kia Telluride water mountains location
The new Telluride SUV is a consumer favorite, having won more than 70 awards

The SUV of Today: Learn more about the all-new 2021 Kia Seltos SUV


Today, the award-winning Kia lineup in the U.S. includes six sedans, six SUVs, a hatchback, a minivan, and five hybrid vehicles. Earlier this year, the brand announced its ‘Plan S’ strategy to create even more electric vehicle solutions by 2025. It looks like Kia isn’t going anywhere soon and will continue to create quality-driven, value-focused vehicles for many years to come.