NAMYUNG, South Korea – The Hyundai – Kia R & D centre here, is a perfect example of how this massive South Korean conglomerate has become one of the Global Top Five vehicle producers.
South Korean design, manufacturing, marketing and quality have come a long way since those early products brought to North America wearing various Ford and General Motors labels. Kia and Hyundai products are now among the highest rated in terms of initial quality and long term reliability.
Kia and Hyundai borrowed and spent heavily in the drive to become competitive. These massive conglomerates are major global players in everything from computer chips to bulk transport ships. All that investment in plant, equipment and people has resulted in a company equipped with the latest in R&D and monstrous new plants stuffed with high-tech robots, electronics and highly educated and well-trained people to run them.
Kia was established in December, 1944 South Korea’s oldest car company built its first bicycle in 1952, its first 3-wheeled light trunk in 1962 and its first car in 1974. Kia started selling cars in the U. S. in 1995, Europe in 1997 and Canada in 2000. It currently produces cars, SUV’s, light, medium and large trucks; micro busses and large busses. The biggest engine I saw here was a twin-turbo 31.7-litre V8 diesel!.
During the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 – referred here as the “Asian melt-down” – Kia faced massive debt and was placed in receivership. It became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hyundai in 1998. Intense negotiations with labor followed, and promises of no disputes allowed financial recovery sooner than expected. Sales records followed – 485,000 in 1998, 956,000 by 2000. In 2016 Kia sold more than three million units globally (and Hyundai five million)!
Kia employs more than 50,000 and plants in five countries have a capacity of more than 3.5 million vehicles. It sells vehicles in more than 180 countries has annual revenues in excess of US $50 billion.
The Research & Development departments of Kia and Hyundai were joined in February 1999. The two companies spend 6% of annual revenue on R&D, much of that here. The ultra-modern Namyung facility includes product planning, styling, prototype manufacturing, engineering and testing for both companies. The facilities are crammed with Computer-aided-design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) equipment. More than 12,000 scientists, designers and engineers have their own Super Computer, anaechoeic chamber, hot and cold test chambers, rolling road simulator and a full-scale wind tunnel.
Outside, across a scenic and serene company park with plenty of well-stocked streams, walkways and bridges, is an extensive proving ground – one of three. It was 64 kilometres of roads, including a steeply banked 4.5 kilometre high speed oval, where I have driven 210 km/hour in a Sedona minivan driven straight off the assembly line!
The Namyung facility is one of seven R & D operations, including powertrain and advanced R&D centres in Asia, Germany and the United States (Detroit and Los Angeles).