Kia’s top U.S. executive has stepped down in a shake-up of the brand’s U.S. management team.
Byung Mo Ahn, 64, group vice chairman and CEO of Kia Motors America and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, will leave those posts and become an adviser to the company, effective immediately, Kia said in a statement today.
As part of the shake-up, Kia’s U.S. sales and marketing boss, Michael Sprague, 49, was promoted to the newly created role of COO of Kia Motors America and will oversee sales, marketing, service and product planning functions for Kia in the United States. Sprague will report to Kia Motors America’s new CEO, Jang Won Sohn, who had been a Kia Motors Corp. senior vice president.
Kia also promoted Hyun Jong Shin, COO of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, to CEO of the brand’s Georgia assembly plant.
Ahn had overseen Kia’s sales, marketing, and manufacturing operations in the United States since 2008, where he was a driving force behind the brand’s dramatic growth in that period. Kia’s U.S. sales rose from 273,397 the year he took over to 580,234 last year.
In March 2014, Ahn was named a vice chairman of Kia Motors Corp., making him a top-ranking Kia official globally and one of two executives to hold the vice chairman title at the time, along with Kia Motors Corp. CEO Hank Lee. In a statement at the time, Kia said Ahn would “continue to lead the implementation of the brand's long-term strategy in the U.S. as the product portfolio, customer base and units in operation continue to expand.”
Kia’s U.S. sales growth has slowed recently amid tougher competition, especially from Japanese brands, and a shift in consumer tastes toward crossovers that has been at odds with Kia’s sedan-heavy lineup. Kia’s U.S. sales fell 4 percent in 2013 before gaining 8 percent last year.
Also today, Kia affiliate Hyundai Motor Co. said it will replace COO Im Tak-uk, who will also take an advisory role.
In a statement, the group said, "The latest reshuffle aims at beefing up the overseas sales competitiveness of Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors."