Kia gives thanks for first five years, 1.5 million vehicles

There was no big fanfare Monday to mark the 5th anniversary of Kia’s production debut at its auto assembly plant in West Point, Ga.

But the employees did give thanks in their own quiet way — gobbling up turkey, ham, dressing and the fixings.

“We didn’t have a ceremony. We had a free meal today for everyone, but it was really more of a Thanksgiving lunch and just happened to be today. A lot of people travel (for the holiday), so we try to get the meal out when everybody’s going to be here,” said Corinne Hodges, public relations manager for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, which began rolling the Kia Sorento crossover utility vehicle off of its assembly line on Nov. 16, 2009.

For the record, the journey has been prolific for the South Korea-based automaker that announced in March 2006 that it had chosen a 2,200-acre swath of land just off Interstate 85 in Troup County for its first U.S. auto plant. Ground was broken that October, with hiring and training and construction on the plant and an I-85 interchange taking place between then and the launch of vehicle production.

The stats are glaring. The company said Monday it has manufactured 1.5 million vehicles over the last five years, actually hitting that number last Wednesday. That includes the Sorento, the Kia Optima sedan and the Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility vehicle. More than 3,000 people work at the plant, with more than 10,000 other jobs generated through auto parts suppliers in the region.

Byung-Mo Ahn, group vice chairman and chief executive officer of Kia Motors America, expressed pride in the facility’s employees and their “tireless effort and dedication.”

Randy Jackson was literally there from the beginning. The senior vice president of human resources and administration, in a statement, stressed that the Kia philosophy of “continuous improvement and making today better than yesterday” has been a key to the company’s success at the plant and in the surrounding community.

“The most rewarding part of being at KMMG during the past five years for me would be seeing all of the lives that have been changed for the better because of our success,” he said.

Kia Motors America reported record October sales of 44,694 vehicles, led by the Optima’s nearly 12,000 units and the Soul’s nearly 11,000. Year to date, just under 135,000 Optimas have been sold, compared to just over 84,000 Sorentos. The Soul, a subcompact car manufactured in South Korea, has sold more than 126,000 units.

The automaker had total U.S. sales of 489,711 through October of this year, besting the total of 456,137 units peddled through the first 10 months of 2013.