LOS ANGELES -- Kia Motors Corp. elevated the head of its U.S. operations to one of the company’s two highest-ranking executive positions globally.
Ahn Byung-mo, group CEO of Kia Motors America and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, was named vice chairman of Kia Motors Corp. The promotion makes Ahn one of two executives, along with Kia CEO Lee Hyoung-keun (Hank), to hold the vice chairman position at Kia. Ahn and Lee are now Kia’s two highest-ranking executives.
A Kia spokesman said Ahn’s promotion does not include a seat on the Kia Motors Corp. board of directors. Ahn will report to Chung Mong-koo, chairman of the Hyundai Motor Group, which includes both Hyundai and Kia. The spokesman noted that Ahn primarily reported to Chung prior to the promotion.
Ahn will continue to oversee Kia’s U.S. operations, with the new title of group vice chairman of KMA, its marketing and sales arm in Irvine, Calif., and KMMG, its manufacturing operation in West Point, Ga., according to a Kia spokesman.
Ahn’s promotion underscores the significance of the U.S. market to Kia’s global fortunes. It is Kia’s second-largest market behind China.
It also highlights Ahn’s pivotal role in driving Kia’s rise in the U.S. market. Ahn was named group president and CEO of KMA and KMMG in 2008.
At the time, Kia dealers were frustrated over bloated inventories, falling sales, low dealership profits and six CEO changes during the decade preceding Ahn’s arrival.
Those concerns seem like a distant memory after six years with Ahn at the helm.
Kia’s U.S. sales grew from 273,397 in 2008 to 535,179 vehicles last year as the brand overhauled its product lineup.
Ahn oversaw the site selection and development of Kia’s manufacturing plant in West Point, which began producing vehicles in 2009 and is now running at near full capacity to build the Kia Optima mid-sized sedan, Sorento crossover and Hyundai Santa Fe. The plant has produced more than 1.2 million vehicles since production began, Kia says.
Kia’s momentum slowed last year as U.S. sales fell 4 percent while overall industry sales rose 8 percent. Kia hopes to reverse that trend this year and is targeting a 9 percent increase in U.S. sales to about 585,000 vehicles, according to an outline of Kia’s 2014 global business plan posted on its Web site.