The Rise of Kia Motors: Part 2 – Brisa

In Part 1 of the “Rise of Kia” series, Don Southerton shared the launch of the brand. Part 2 provides insights into Kia’s early inroads into the Korean automotive market.

Image by George Bakos

In the fall of 1974, the first Kia Brisa S-1000 four-door sedans rolled off the Sohari production line. This came after a year earlier when they had begun production of the Brisa pickup.

Overall, the Brisa sedan was a success with 75,987 sold between 1974 and 1981.

In conjunction with the manufacturing of the Brisa sedan and Brisa pickup, Kia Motors also produced the vehicles’ one-liter gas engines. While the competition sourced engines from their foreign partners, this marked the first Korean company to manufacture its own engines.


In the first year of production, 65 percent of the parts in the Brisa, including the engine, drive shaft, and clutch, were manufactured in Korea. This local sourcing was strongly encouraged by the Korean Government and the ratio of locally produced parts increased steadily over the years.


New Strategy

By the mid-1980s, Kia’s strategy looked overseas. They planned to fill the void at the global low-cost end of the automotive market which was slowly being abdicated by the Japanese brands pursuing sales of more expensive models with higher profit margins.

Compared to rival automakers in Japan, and also Europe, and North America, Kia’s competitive advantage was its lower-paid but skilled South Korean workforce —which translated into lower-priced cars.

The Festiva

Meanwhile and well-timed for Kia, Ford Motor Company requested its Japanese partner Mazda to design a car for the U.S. market—the Ford Festiva.

In turn, Ford contracted Kia to begin production of the Festiva under license for overseas distribution. For the Korean market, the car was badged as the Kia Pride, with local sales beginning in 1986.

Starting in mid-1987, Kia began exporting the Ford Festiva to Canada, with a U.S. launch later that year. This plan aligned well with the Kia strategy. Over the life of the Festiva in the United States alone, Kia would export roughly 350,000 units.

The Rise of Kia Motors

Part 1: The T600 and the Rise of Kia Motors

Part 2: The Rise of Kia Motors: Part 2 – Brisa


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