2019 kia optima sx in white

Behind the Red Oval – Ford, Kia and Mazda’s Unique Relationship

Are Kia, Mazda and Ford Related?

Kia’s slogan of “the power to surprise” says a lot about their current lineup. After all, the modern Kia brand is no stranger to delighting and impressing by introducing models that nobody in the automotive industry would have expected. Most recently, that means vehicles like the Kia Stinger and upcoming Kia Telluride. Although they’re everywhere on the road today, the Kia Soul was a surprising vehicle when it debuted ten years ago as well.

[READ MORE: Kia Soul History and First-Generation Soul Photos]

While the modern incarnation of Kia are trailblazers who set the tone for the industry and establish driver expectations for segments like the compact car, subcompact SUV and minivan classes, old Kia wound up striving for adequacy. We’ve written at length about how early Kias were less than surprising, powerful, interesting or even all right to look at. On top of that, to simply achieve adequacy, old Kia did something common in those days – badge engineering.

What is Badge Engineering?

Badge engineering, or rebadging, is the term for selling a vehicle on the market under two or more brand names. As an immediate example, you can think of the full-size, body-on-frame SUV offered by General Motors. This vehicle goes by several names. It’s the Chevrolet Tahoe (and Suburban). It’s the GMC Yukon (and Yukon XL). It’s the Cadillac Escalade (and Escalade ESV). The term badge engineering is given since the design and badge of these vehicles are the only significant deviations from one another.

Historically, automotive companies, either beginning their journey or entering a new market, have used badge engineering to establish their name and drum up awareness over the new brand.

For Kia, this was a big part of how the Red Oval we love got to where they are now.

Mazda-Licensed, Kia-Made, Ford-Badged

As a Japanese powerhouse of automotive engineering, Mazda-licensed trucks were some of the first four-wheel vehicles that Kia produced. Beginning in the early 60s, Kia began manufacturing vehicles like the Kia K360 – a badge-engineered version of the Mazda K360 three-wheeled truck.

Kia would later produce Mazda cars like the Mazda 121/Familia (badged as the Kia Brisa) and use the Mazda B-Series platform for the Kia Pride.

Kia also exported these vehicles where they were badge-engineered for different markets. The Kia Pride was exported to North America as the first-generation Ford Festiva. Ford hit Kia back by allowing them to badge-engineer the second-generation Ford Festiva as the Kia Avella for use in the Korean market.

Although never explicitly stated, this badge-engineering relationship is rumored to be the reason why Kia and Ford share similar badge shapes with the former opting for a red background and futuristic type case, while the latter utilizes a blue oval with Henry Ford’s classic script.

Following Kia’s declaration of bankruptcy in 1997, Ford bid for the company. They were outbid by Hyundai, however, who now own a large stake in Kia. You can read more about their confusing relationship here:

[READ MORE: Kia and Hyundai’s Relationship]

Platform-Sharing Replaces Badge Engineering

Aside from manufacturers like General Motors which keep several competing badges under their umbrella, badge engineering has largely been replaced by platform sharing. Platform sharing sees a greater variance in vehicle engineering, although design, production and some engineering is shared between them. Kia and Hyundai/Genesis share platforms as do manufacturers with luxury lines like Toyota (Lexus), Honda (Acura) and Nissan (Infiniti).

2019 Kia Sorento from rear

front three quarter view of 2019 kia sportage

A Distinct and Industry-Leading Future for Kia

Though younger than domestic brands like Ford, Kia’s history is not without drama. The uncertainty of Kia’s past has helped to shape a badge and a manufacturer that are perhaps better prepared to deal with the shifting automotive world than others.

In their 60-some years of being around us, Kia has learned the value of sharing and asking for help when it’s needed. These days, however, the brand is in a better spot than ever to lead and inspire up-and-coming manufacturers.

For more information on Kia’s history or to schedule a test drive with a vehicle, like the 2019 Kia Forte or 2019 Kia Sorento, that shows how far Kia has come, contact us today!

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