The Good Oil: Hyundai/Kia relationship status... it's complicated
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If you want to annoy somebody who works for Hyundai, suggest that the brand’s cars are the same as Kia’s. If want to annoy somebody who works for Kia, suggest that the brand’s cars are the same as Hyundai’s.
We non-company people tend to think of South Korea’s two big brands as one and the same. But are they really?
They didn’t start out that way. The protectionist Automobile Industry Promotion Policy from the South Korean government in 1962 kickstarted the country’s car industry by banning foreign makers, except in joint ventures. Lots of non-carmakers suddenly got interested; including Kia, which stopped making steel tubing and started making Mazda-licensed trucks. Hyundai Motor Company was founded in 1968 to capitalise on this new car business, with help from Ford.
It was Hyundai that made the first truly South Korean designed car: the Pony, in 1975. At that time Kia’s main passenger-car product was the Brisa sedan (above), but that was simply a version of the Mazda Familia. In later years it also made iterations of the Fiat 132 and Peugeot 604.
By 1981 the burgeoning South Korean industry was in trouble, as Japanese makers lowered the prices of their mostly better-quality cars. South Korean military dictator Chun Doo-Hwan ordered an immediate consolidation of the industry. Hyundai was allowed to keep making cars, while Kia was restricted to commercials.
It took until 1986 for Kia to kick off with cars again (albeit with annual production of just 26 vehicles!). The Pride is arguably the first Kia export Kiwis would be familiar with – albeit as the Ford Festiva, sold here in second-generation form in the 1990s. Not to be confused with the European “Fiesta”; or very much to be confused with it if Kia had its way, presumably.
Kia went bankrupt in 1997 and Hyundai stepped in to buy 51 per cent, outbidding Ford. And that’s really where the modern era of Hyundai/Kia starts, although a number of divestments and some co-owning means that today Hyundai owns 33.88 per cent of Kia – still its biggest shareholder.
The companies share platforms and technology, although they also each do their own thing and certainly compete – especially in New Zealand, where Kia is a factory-owned operation and Hyundai is an independent Kiwi-owned distributor. There’s no love lost… to put it mildly.