Kia Motors America President Michael Cole is returning to Europe after two years running sales and marketing efforts in the U.S. for the Korean automaker. But this time he’ll be working for corporate sibling Hyundai.
Cole, 56, will become president and CEO for Hyundai Europe starting July 1, the company said in a statement. Cole, a British national, will become the first non-Korean executive to hold the top job in the region for Hyundai.
Cole’s position at Kia Motors America will not be filled. Sean Yoon, president and CEO of Kia Motors North America, will again assume the additional role of president and CEO of Kia Motors America, Kia said in a statement Friday.
“Michael made a huge impression on all of us at KMA and today we applaud the news and celebrate his return to Europe,” Kia said. “While he will be sorely missed, we are confident that the skills so evident to us here will continue to serve him and all of us in the greater Hyundai Motor Group very well for years to come.”
Cole has worked for Kia for 11 years. He was COO of Kia Europe from 2012-18, during which time the automaker's sales rose 40 percent, outpacing the European market's 27 percent sales rise during that span.
Following his success in Europe, Cole moved to Kia America, where in 2018 he started as COO and executive vice president before being promoted to president of the U.S.-based division of the automaker last November.
Cole succeeds Dongwoo Choi, who held the job for two years.
Previously, Hyundai Europe's top-ranking non-Korean executive consistently held the COO title, which has been vacant since Thomas Schmid, an Austrian national, left the company at the end of 2019 after nearly four years in the post.
Before joining Kia in 2009, Cole spent 15 years with Toyota in the UK, where he rose to become UK sales director. He has a degree in accounting from Oxford Brookes University and qualified as a Fellow of the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants during his 10 years working in Ford's dealer network.
In 2019, Hyundai increased sales by 3.5 percent to 546,100 in the EU+EFTA area, boosting its market share to 3.6 percent from 3.5 percent, according to figures from industry association ACEA. Registrations through May are down 41 percent, but Hyundai's share during that period rose to 3.5 percent from 3.4 percent.
Cole's challenge will be to keep growing Hyundai's share while making sure the automaker meets challenging CO2 emissions targets set by the EU. Hyundai has an ambitious product renewal plan for 2020, including a number of new electrified models.