LOS ANGELES - Raising quality standards in order to expand the company is a tall but important order for Peter Butterfield, COO of Kia Motors America.
Butterfield says it's his No. 1 priority.
With a score of 212 defects per 100 vehicles, Kia finished dead last on the 2001 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study.
The study measures problems with a vehicle in the first 90 days of ownership. That's no surprise, though - Kia has been last nearly every year since it entered the U.S. market in 1994.
"Initial quality is something that's built into production," Butterfield said. "Up until 1999, the company wasn't focused on quality."
Butterfield said two major moves have been made in the last year to improve Kia's quality:
1. Predelivery inspection centers, staffed entirely by women, have been established at Kia's plants in Korea. The assumption: Women are much more detail-oriented than men. "It may be considered sexist here," Butterfield said, "but in Korea they say women pay much better attention to all the details."
2. Butterfield has commissioned his staff to study how Kia Motors America can improve quality on this side of the ocean - from the point where the U.S. sales arm takes delivery, through vehicle delivery, to dealerships.