Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Driven : Compacts & a few others

Kia Rio(2010) , Cerato(2011) & Optima(2010)
Till a few years ago when you heard the word 'Kia' an image similar to the one below would have popped into your mind :

A collage of some not so memorable, ugly and poorly built Kias of yesteryear
Kia is actually a pretty old company, it was founded in 1944 and its core business was bicycle parts!! After about a decade of building cycle parts they gradually expanded into motorcycles, trucks and finally by 1974 they started manufacturing cars. They partnered with Ford for the technical know-how and produced several re-branded Mazda models (Ford has maintained a stake in Mazda from the '60s and even now has a small piece of the company) and in a few years entered the then biggest automotive market, the holy grail for car manufacturers - the US of A. Their models were downright ugly, pathetically built, poorly marketed and not at all fun to own. But all that changed because in a few years Kia was declaring bankruptcy!! The present global economic recession has everybody fearing the worst but if you actually look closely there have been major setbacks to the economies of some parts of the world for quite some time now. During the 1997 Asian Economic crisis, Kia just could not keep itself afloat. Even though they blame the crisis for their failure I personally think it was a blessing in disguise, because not only were their ugly models out of the showrooms and roads, but they also got a new  investor, none other than their major competitior - the Hyundai Motor Company. From then on Kia and Hyundai have been sharing platforms and other resources and at one point of time it was very evident because their models looked so very similar to one another's which can be seen to some extent even now, check out the 2011 Kia models (on the left) and their similar platform-shared Hyundai models (on the right) :

The similarities are quite evident. The main difference between both the model line-ups is the design philosophy and this where Kia managed quite a coup. They managed to get the legendary Peter Schreyer on board as the Chief Design Officer. Peter Schreyer is the design maverick behind many of Audi's and Volkswagen's most beautiful models including the Audi TT and the Volkswagen New Beetle.

Some of Peter Schreyer's work with his previous employer
While Hyundai adopted a curvaceous approach, Peter Schreyer's aggressive sleek design lines for the Kia made it stand out. Kia got an easily identifiable 'Tiger Nose' grill and people began appreciating and even admiring Kias for their bold designs and vastly improved quality. The best part of Kia is still its price and now with such other amazing traits, choosing a Kia is really a no-brainer and fleet owners are flocking to the nearest distributors. The very fact that the one of the most recognized distributors of Toyota in Oman and worldwide, Saud Bahwan Autmotive, grabbed Kia from another smaller distributor, built a massive dedicated showroom for Kia and made the Kia buying and servicing experience as good as their other marques which include Lexus, Toyota, Mercury and Ford amongst many others. Some readers may seem skeptical when I said that Saud Bahwan is a globally recognized Toyota distributor, but believe me, in India, every employee of a Toyota distributor learns the Saud Bahwan story as a case study during their training!! So while working in Oman I got the opportunity to drive many Kias and for long durations of thousands of kilometers. First the Kia Rio 2010.

This is a nimble fuel efficient car, best suited for the city but can handle long drives quite well. Well I got loads to tell you about this car and a lot more but will have to be continued later, gotta run now.