In 1992, Kia Motors America was incorporated in the United States. The first Kia-branded vehicles in the United States were sold from four dealerships in Portland, Oregon, in February 1994. Since then, Kia methodically expanded one region at a time. Dealers in 1994 sold the Sephia; and a few years later, the United States segment expanded their line with the addition of the Sportage. Over one hundred Kia dealerships existed across thirty states by 1995, selling a record 24,740 automobiles.
However, during the Asian financial crisis, Kia declared bankruptcy in 1997; and in 1998 reached an agreement with Hyundai Motor Company to diversify by exchanging ownership between both companies. Hyundai Motor Company acquired 51% of the company, outbidding Ford Motor Company which had owned an interest in Kia Motors since 1986. After subsequent divestments, Hyundai Motor Company owns about one third of Kia Motor Corporation. While Hyundai Motor Company remains Kia’s largest stakeholder, Kia Motor Company also retains ownership in some 22 different Hyundai Motor Company subsidiaries.
Since 2005, Kia has focused on the European market and has identified design as its “core future growth engine”—leading to the hiring of Peter Schreyer in 2006 as chief design officer and his subsequent creation of a new corporate grille known as the ‘Tiger Nose’.
In October 2006, Kia Motors America broke ground for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia in West Point, Georgia, representing a $1 billion USD investment for the company. Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia opened in February 2010, after Kia recorded its 15th consecutive year of increased U.S. market share.
In August 2014, the company received international attention when Pope Francis of the Catholic Church rode in one of their compact cars, the Kia Soul, during a five-day visit to South Korea. The Kia Soul drew bigger attention than two other vehicles used by the Pope, their Kia Carnival and Hyundai’s Santa Fe, because it appeared in the high-profile welcoming ceremony of his arrival at the Seoul Airport on 14 August.
In 2016, Kia Motors model reliability was ranked first in the United States by J.D. Power and Associates, becoming the first non-luxury automaker since 1989 to top that list.
As of December 31, 2015, the Hyundai Motor Company owns a 33.88% stake in Kia Motors. Likewise, as of December 31, 2015, Kia Motors is owner in 22 different Hyundai companies. Its ownership percentages range from 4.9% up to 45.37%.