Are Kia and Hyundai the Same Company?
If you don’t have kids or nephews/nieces in high school, it can be easy to look back on your time there fondly. This is a trick our brains play on us to help us overcome trauma. For nearly everybody, high school is a nightmare. For every “summer to remember” or “Hector’s EPIC Graduation Party,” there’s a rejection note/AIM message or final exam that gave you so much stress it literally took twelve years from your life.
One of the weirdest parts of high school is the relationships. With teenagers and young adults being notoriously non-committal, “are we dating?” conversations are commonplace for most people who have lived through, or are currently living through, these horrible four (or more) years.
More than any other pair of companies in the automotive market, and mass consumer products market in general, Kia and Hyundai feel like that couple who always spent time together but never really confirmed that they were dating.
This is especially apparent with older models that, for example, saw the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent as nearly indistinguishable from one another. Even modern Hyundai models almost all have Kia-manufactured counterparts. Beyond just competing in the same class, this is symptomatic of a deeper relationship the two share – and one that may be difficult to understand for the out-of-the-loop onlooker.
For instance, the 2019 Kia K900 shares its platform with the Genesis G90, the 2018 Kia Niro shares its platform with the Hyundai Ioniq and the 2018 Kia Sportage shares its platform with the 2018 Hyundai Tucson.
So, what’s the deal? Are they, or aren’t they? Let’s look.
Kia and Hyundai: Their Histories and History
Of the two, Kia was the earliest to the automotive manufacturing party, having begun all the way back in the early 1940s as Kyungsung Precision Industry. At the time, Kia manufactured bicycles and small motor items. As the brand grew and their manufacturing capital increased, they began to produce automobiles, many of which you reach read about in our Throwback Thursday archives here.
On the other hand, the Hyundai Motor Group started in the late 1960s. As both brands moved into the lucrative 1990s, they saw different fortunes for their marketing and business operations. For Hyundai, there was good news. The brand had been selling extremely well in both India and the United States, making its parent company – the Hyundai Motor Group – very profitable.
Unfortunately, with Kia having been energized by the great market and strategically focused primarily on Asia and the United States, they were hit much harder by the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 than Hyundai was and forced to declare bankruptcy that same year.
In an alternate universe, this is where Kia’s story ends and we aren’t driving amazing vehicles like the 2018 Kia Stinger sports sedan or 2018 Kia Cadenza luxury full-size car. Thankfully, Hyundai came to the rescue and purchased 51% of the company, allowing Kia to continue marching toward their destiny.
These days, their relationship is both more equal and more complicated. Hyundai Motor Group owns about 1/3 of Kia’s total shares and Kia owns about 20 of Hyundai Motor Company’s subsidiaries.
So, to answer the question of if Kia and Hyundai are a unit, the answer is no. They’re just very close and like, just because you spend time with somebody doesn’t mean you have to be a “thing” or put a label on it. Geez.
Maybe the most perplexing thing about Hyundai and Kia’s relative positions in the market is the fact that they are, for the most part, chasing the same market. With similar pricing, models built to fill the same spots in the market and a similar value proposition, Kia and Hyundai don’t function like other manufacturers with close working relationships (think Toyota and Mazda or Buick and Cadillac).
As separate companies, Kia and Hyundai compete with one another. They both hire different marketing teams, design teams, engineering teams, etc. with crossover where it is profitable for them (i.e. platform sharing).
At Friendly Kia, we appreciate the fact that we all have jobs because of Hyundai’s help. These days, Kia is in a stronger position than any other automotive manufacturer (Hyundai included) to lead the next generation of automotive design and engineering. Their models are consistently winning awards like Best Engine, Best Interior, Best Car for Families and more. Meanwhile, their design – led by automotive styling icon Peter Schreyer – has been praised by automotive publications and everyday drivers alike for its intrepid unity.
There’s not really an easy answer or comparison for the complicated relationship Kia and Hyundai have, but we’ll try: They’re like that couple in school where the one person saved the other person who was drowning in the swimming pool at summer camp back in middle school and now owns half their wardrobe, while the person who was saved does the homework for the person who saved them and also owns their smartphone, backpack and a pair of sneakers.
If you can think of a better analogy, feel free to let us know.
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