Kia was founded in 1944 as a bicycle manufacturer. In 1957, the company began to produce motorcycles and in 1962, trucks. It wasn't until 1974 that the company began building automobiles.
In 1986, Kia partnered with the Ford Motor Company and began producing several Mazda-derived models for the US market. It also exported its first model to the US, the subcompact Ford Festiva. In the 1990s, a second model was sold in America, the Ford Aspire hatchback.
In the early 1990s, Kia had its own aspirations for the North American market and began to sell two models in limited regions, including its compact Sephia sedan and the Kia Sportage SUV. By 1997, financial problems nearly shut the company down until Hyundai stepped forward to purchase Kia Motors.
In 1999, the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group was officially formed. Two years later, Kia doubled its product line, adding the subcompact Rio and its midsize Optima sedan. That era also initiated a strategy whereby Kia phased out its own models to build new and unique models based on Hyundai platforms and powertrains.
The first Korean minivan, the Kia Sedona was introduced in 2002, giving shoppers a low-cost option to the Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna and other models of that time. It also spawned a Hyundai Entourage variant briefly.
Throughout the new millennium, Kia's model line expanded and with that its market share. The Kia Spectra replaced the Sephia in 2003 and was followed by the Kia Forte later in the decade.
Beginning in 2004, Kia experimented with a premium model, selling the large Amanti, powered by a V6 engine and replete with leather and wood trim. Kia's first attempt at a premium model was largely ignored, but it set the stage for newer and more luxurious models in later years, including the large Cadenza and full-size K900 sedans.
For three years beginning in 2007, the Kia Rondo was sold, a small utility vehicle that was closer in size to a small minivan and a competitor to the Mazda MPV. In 2009, the Kia Borrego was introduced, a large SUV based on the Hyundai Veracruz. This vehicle was canceled after one model year.
In 2009, the Kia Soul made its debut, a small multipurpose vehicle that marked an important transition point for the brand. The Soul with its low price point and youthful styling helped advance the Kia brand like no model before it and preceded changes that brought forth a new Optima sedan, Sportage SUV, and the company's first hybrid vehicles.
Today, Kia offers a full range of models from the subcompact Rio to the luxurious K900. Its competitors include every mainstream brand such as Volkswagen, Mazda, Dodge, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Toyota, Chevrolet, Honda and Ford.