LOS ANGELES — Kia dealers are seething over low profit margins, sliding sales, bloated inventories and the seventh CEO change since 1999 — and they want to know what the company's Korean bosses plan to do about it.
And Kia Motors America's new CEO, Byung Mo Ahn, promises to put things right with dealers. But his first step was to saddle them with a sales goal that many dealers say is way, way out of reach.
In a letter to dealers, obtained by Automotive News, Ahn said he will accompany dealer council members to Korea the week of March 9. The dealers will meet with top Kia Motors Corp. management, visit the r&d center and test drive Kia vehicles scheduled to launch through 2010.
"That is supposed to help soothe the jangled nerves of the dealer body," said one skeptical retailer.
Said another: "Dealers are sitting on all of this inventory, and a lot of them are angry."
The inventory situation was cause for an emergency dealer council meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention last month in San Francisco.
"Nobody was selling anything," said a dealer who attended the session. "Believe me, some of the big hitters are real nervous about the future of our franchises. Here we are in 2008 with no leadership and the seventh change of face."
Ahn, 57, replaced Len Hunt, who along with marketing vice president Ian Beavis left Kia without explanation on Feb. 8, just before the NADA convention. Many dealers say they think Hunt and Beavis were fired.
Ahn has been in the job before. He was CEO of Kia Motors America from 1999 to 2001 and most recently was president and CEO of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia. In that position he oversaw preparations for an assembly plant Kia is building in West Point, Ga. Three days before Hunt and Beavis left, Ahn was named to the new post of chairman and group CEO of Kia Motors America and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia.