Kia has turned around its quality image and many used vehicles like the 2006 Kia Rio and Kia Rio5 cars were ranked highest in initial quality in the sub-compact category by J.D. Power and Associates, Consumer Guide marks the Kia Spectra and Kia Sportage as "Recommended Buys", Car Book named the Kia Rio, Kia Optima, and Kia Sedona as "Best Bets", Consumer Voice Awards named the Kia Sorento "Best Midsize SUV”.
Kia Motors Corporation of Seoul, South Korea, is a relatively recent arrival to the world of major automakers. The company was formed in 1944 to produce steel tubing and bicycle parts but Kia would quickly move on to produce a number of Korea firsts. Kia produced Korea's first bicycle in 1951, the first motor scooter in 1957, the first motorcycle in 1961, and the first Korean truck in 1962. In 1973, the company opened Korea's first fully integrated automobile production facility and began production on Korea's first internal combustion engine. In 1974, Kia moved to manufacturing vehicles under license from Peugeot and Fiat.
The tide changed for Kia in 1990, when the name of the company was officially changed to Kia Motors, Inc. In 1991, Kia announced plans to enter the US market with the Sephia compact sedan and the Sportage compact sport utility vehicle. To launch the vehicles in the US, Kia established Kia Motors America to sell and market Kia vehicles nationwide. In 1993, Kia furthered its commitment to selling in the US by establishing a parts distribution center in Fullerton, California, and by signing up the first 20 US dealerships. In 1994, Kia's first official entry into the US comes in the form of the Sephia sedan, priced at $8,495. Annual sales in 1994 stood at 12,163 vehicles.
The 100th Kia dealership would open in 1995 and the Sportage was introduced per Kia's earlier promise. The Sportage won several awards during its inaugural year and sales doubled to 24,740 units annually. A year later in 1996, Kia counted 170 dealerships and sold 36,274 vehicles.
Financial struggles due to quality perceptions amongst consumers and the aggressive nationwide roll-out put the Kia company into financial distress. In 1998 the Hyundai Business Group won a 39% controlling interesting in Kia Motors Corporation and began to turn the Kia company around. The Sportage continued to collect awards throughout the year, and total sales for all Kia vehicles hit 82,893 for the year. The following year, Kia would have dealerships in 49 states (North Dakota excepted) and became the fifth largest import brand. In a single year, Hyundai ownership had returned Kia to profitability.