Kia Motors Announces Mexican Plant Venture

Kia enters the Mexican market in a big way.

Kia Motors Rio.

The subcompact Kia Rio may find a home in Mexico.

Korean automaker Kia Motors Corporation announced this week that it will build a new manufacturing plant in Nuevo Leon, a state located in northeast Mexico, not far from Texas. Kia’s investment will come in at $US1 billion and will represent the company’s second location in North America.

Kia Motors: On to Mexico

The new plant will join one in West Point, Georgia, currently operating at full capacity. Construction is expected to commence in September with the plant operational by early 2016. Kia Motors executives were in Mexico City to sign the agreement with Enrique Pena Nieto, president of Mexico, among the dignitaries present.

Speaking on behalf of the automaker was Hyoung-Keun (Hank) Lee, Vice Chairman of Kia Motors Corp. Said Lee, “We are committed to producing world-class quality vehicles here in Mexico that feature industry-leading styling and high-tech convenience and safety features that customers have come to expect from Kia, while making significant contributions to both the economic growth of the State of Nuevo León and the future development of the Mexican automotive industry.”

Access to Affordable Labor

Annual capacity for the new plant has been set at 300,000 vehicles, pushing the automaker’s global build capacity to 3.37 million units, almost evenly divided between plants in Korea and abroad. The automaker hasn’t announced which models will be built in Mexico, but industry experts have named the Rio subcompact and Forte compact as two strong possibilities. Both models are produced in Korea; Mexico would give Kia the low-cost labor to profitability build cars south of the border.

Kia acquired 53,800,000 square feet (1,235 acres) to build its new plant, leaving ample room for suppliers to set up shop nearby. Although the company hasn’t announced how many people will work at the plant, a labor force of 2,000 to 3,000 individuals is typical for a plant this size. Several thousand more supplier jobs will also be created with the local economy receiving an enormous boost as well.

US Sales: On the Rise

Despite capacity constraints, Kia’s US sales are up 7.2 percent in a market showing a 5 percent boost through July 2014. The automaker’s growth is outpacing its Korean sibling, Hyundai, which is seeing a modest 1 percent increase year-to-date. Hyundai also has a US factory — located in Montgomery, Alabama — and taps Kia to build its Santa Fe crossover in Georgia. Combined US sales for the Hyundai and Kia brands are up by 3.7 percent year-to-date according to Good Car Bad Car.

Building in Mexico not only gives Kia access to low, albeit rapidly rising labor costs, but it also gives the company access to approximately 40 markets with which Mexico has trade agreements. Mexico, along with Canada and the United States, compose the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA). NAFTA is a trade bloc, what eliminated trade barriers between the three nations and has spurred investment. NAFTA has been criticized by some as American companies move to Mexico to save on labor costs while costing US workers their jobs.

Mexico also will represent a new sales market for Kia, one of the few places in the world that the company has yet to penetrate. The automaker says that the Mexican plant will allow it to strengthen Kia’s “sales presence throughout the entire Central and South America region while freeing up supply from Kia’s domestic plants to address supply shortage issues in other regions of the world.”

Working With Hyundai

Kia’s growth has come largely through its relationship with Hyundai. The two companies comprise the Hyundai Kia Automobile Group with Hyundai supplying many of the platforms, engines and components used by Kia. Kia utilizes its own body shells and interiors to produce models that are differentiated from Hyundai.

Kia’s best selling model is its Optima sedan followed by the Soul multi-purpose vehicle and Sorento SUV. The Soul and Sportage SUV have accounted for nearly all of Kia’s growth so far this year.

Photo copyright Kia Motors.

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Say It: Land Rover Range Rover Sport

Land Rover thrives under Tata’s ownership.

Ranger Rover Sport

Land Rover Range Rover. That’s a long name for a vehicle make, but it actually describes a brand (Land Rover) and a sub-brand (Range Rover).

From Jeep to Land Rover to Tata

Land Rover has been around since 1948, a British marque that took inspiration from Word War II “jeep” models produced by Willys and the Ford Motor Company. Range Rover was rolled out in 1970 to represent the flagship model for Land Rover. Today, there are three lines of Range Rover models, including the Range Rover Sport.

Built in the United Kingdom, the company is officially part of Jaguar Land Rover, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tata Motors Limited, an Indian company. Nearly 60 years after the British empire gave India its independence, Tata purchased the British marques for $2.3 billion or $3 billion less than what Ford paid for them years earlier. Ford had also sank billions of dollars into the two brands, but decided to sell them in a bid to concentrate on its core Ford brand.

Since the transfer Jaguar Land Rover sales have surged as consumers in China, Russia and elsewhere have snapped up these premium models. In any business, timing is everything — CEO Ratan Tata’s acquisition was a stroke of genius.

Range Rover Sport

Expanding the Range Rover Range

The Range Rover Sport was introduced for the 2006 model year. It was based on the Land Rover Discovery/LR3 and was marked by a flat grille, broad shoulders and a square roof line. As such, it was a good model, but it didn’t quite live up to what its competitors were offering.

Eight years later, the second generation Range Rover Sport was released. This time, Land Rover tapped the flagship Range Rover platform to produce the new model. The current iteration is still imposing, but is much more aerodynamic and lives up to its “Sport” name. That’s especially apparent in the roof line that sweeps from the A to the D pillar, providing an “in motion” look.

Range Rover Sport

2014 Range Rover Sport HSE

A 2014 Range Rover Sport V6 SC HSE edition rolled into my drive recently and was promptly put through the paces. This model is powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine making 340 horsepower and paired with a sequential shift 8-speed automatic transmission. Buyers who crave full-on power can opt for a supercharged 5.0-liter V-8 engine cranking out a blistering 510 horsepower.

As for me, I was content with the “tamer” engine and the specific model at hand. Priced from $62,600, the test model came with about $15,000 in factory-installed options, driving up its final price to $78,430. Choose the V-8 model and you’re looking at a $93,325 sticker price for the top-of-the-line Autobiography edition. Two other editions — a V-6 powered SE ($63,525) and a V-8 powered Supercharged ($80,025) — are also available.

2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport

View manufacturer details and pricing

Seats Five, Maybe Seven

The Range Rover Sport offers standard all-wheel drive and seats five. It also provides an available third row seat for two, but the test model did not come with one. I can’t imagine giving up the storage space for two extra seats — there isn’t enough room beyond the second row other than for two small children. The standard storage area is sizable and has a full-size spare located underneath the floor, but is still inside the vehicle.

The latest edition also shaves several hundred pounds, switching to an aluminum unibody that provides a stiffer ride and a quieter interior. Its suspension system has been adapted from the top-end Range Rover, quieting the road and providing a much cushioned ride. On-road handling is taut with sufficient assistance provided through torque-vectoring control.

I’d be lying if I told you that I took the Sport far off road to trample across mud fields or ford a shallow creek. I did take it on a gravel-covered state road, engaging the terrain response system to deliver improved handling. Four other modes can be selected: snow, sand, mud and dynamic. You can also press nearby buttons to select your departure angle and lock the rear differential.

Range Rover Sport

On and Off Road

On the road, the Sport offers a commanding view and moves quickly through each gear. The transmission shifter does take some getting used to — twice I thought I had the stick in park, but found myself going in reverse. You can also operate it in sequential shift mode for clutchless driving.

The beefy direct fuel injected engine is enhanced by an Eaton twin vortex supercharger and dual intercoolers. Turbo lag is evident, but once that hesitancy passes this SUV sails down the road with authority. The base engine replaces a normally aspirated V-8, so supercharging is standard across the entire model line.

The Range Rover’s interior is beautifully laid out with a two-tone (expresso and ivory) dashboard with leather everywhere. Wood and aluminum trim accents are found throughout the interior.

The instrument panel offers a traditional two-analog (speedometer and tachometer) display, flanking a digital driver information system. The driver commands are controlled on the steering wheel as is cruise control. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, thanks to a button that can be twisted and turned to adjust it accordingly.

Range Rover Sport

Center Console: Needs Work

If there is a weakness to the Range Rover Sport, it is evident in the center console. The deep storage compartment is a welcome feature as is the sliding compartment to the right of transmission stick that houses a pair of cup holders. There is also a hidden compartment underneath the climate control panel that can hold a smart phone. Access to that compartment is difficult if drinks are in the cup holder; a second holding unit for your device is located on a tray inside the deep storage compartment. Neither one is convenient for the driver or the front passenger.

Another challenge is the center display. The layout takes much getting used to, but there are too many commands you have to work through to get things done. Those “things” include heating and cooling of the front seats, what takes an extra ordinary amount of time to configure, but quickly kicks in. Range Rover should have placed switches on the climate control panel for these controls. I like Jeep’s system better as well as CUE, from Cadillac.

Range Rover Sport

Where Are the Bottle Holders?

All four doors have storage compartments, but not one is suitable for bottle holders. The front compartments are long and deep, while the back compartments are short and narrow. That means rear seating passengers have access to cold drinks or coffee by folding down the center arm rest, losing one seat placement as a result.

There are a number of attributes with the Range Rover Sport that helps this model shine. Choose the HSE package ($5,000) and your SUV is outfitted with a sliding panoramic roof. Moderate summer weather afforded the opportunity to try it out, something that my wife and children found pleasing. That package, incidentally, brings in elegant Oxford perforated seats with heating, your choice of seven seat colors, wood and trim upgrades, fog lamps and 20-inch wheels.

A luxury climate control and visibility package ($3,545) brought in a heated windshield and steering wheel, four-zone climate control, adaptive headlights with high beam assist and 16-way adjustable front seats. Other upgrades included a vision and convenience package ($2,210) and a premium audio package ($1,950). The vision package offers a nifty front camera system that “views” angles and displays it on the screen, even as you are driving. Consider this last feature ideal for navigating tight city corners or seeing that bear in the brush before it sees you.

Mild to Wild

The one surprise add-on was the high/low transfer box ($1,300) — what should be standard equipment for a vehicle in this class. Land Rover may have decided to make it an option as most buyers will be content to stay on firm ground with no desire to enjoy an off-road adventure. And that fact underscores the appeal of any Land Rover Range Rover model — it looks great when parked in your driveway, runs like a champion on the road and acts like a beast in the wild.

2014 Range Rover Sport V6 SC HSE

  • Sticker price from $62,600
  • Price as tested: from $78,430
  • Seats 5 occupants
  • 3.0-liter 24-valve supercharged V-6 gasoline engine
  • 340 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
  • 332 foot-pounds of torque @ 3,500 to 5,000 rpm
  • 3.33 inches bore by 3.50 inches stroke
  • Engine compression ratio: 10.5-to-1
  • 8-speed automatic transmission
  • Wheelbase: 110.4 inches
  • Length: 191 inches
  • Width: 78.1 inches
  • Height: 70.1 inches
  • Passenger volume: NR
  • Storage volume: 27.7/62.3 cubic feet
  • Towing capacity: 7,716 pounds
  • EPA: 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
  • Fuel requirement: Premium grade gasoline
  • Fuel tank: 27.7 gallons
  • Curb weight: From 4,727 pounds
  • IIHS safety rating: NR
  • Limited vehicle warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles
  • Corrosion warranty: 6 years/Unlimited miles
  • Vehicle assembly: Solihull, UK

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2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine.

Hybrid Revelation: Ford Has Plans for a Prius Fighter

Ford may have a better hybrid idea.

Toyota hybrids

All 11 Toyota/Lexus hybrid models are shown here.
Ford wants to take away some business from Toyota.

Make no mistake about it: Toyota dominates the hybrid market and not just with the Prius. The world’s largest automotive manufacturer sells four Prius variants as well as three other Toyota hybrids. Its Lexus line accounts for five hybrids, helping Toyota maintain a lock hold on the market.

The only manufacturer putting up a challenge to Toyota is the Ford Motor Company, but it is a small one at that. The blue oval brand has had success with the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, but sales of its C-Max line have yet to meet expectations. Still, Ford is ahead of most of its competitors even as it remains a distant speck in Toyota’s hybrid rear view mirror.

New Hybrid Line

Ford has plans to expand its hybrid presence by bringing to the market a new line of vehicles that will compete directly against the Toyota Prius. In an exclusive report last week from Reuters, two company sources have said that Ford plans to release a new hybrid-only model in four years.

The unnamed Ford hybrid may take on the entire Prius line by offering hatchback, wagon and plug-in versions of the vehicle. Its Wayne assembly plant near Detroit has been identified as the build factory for the hybrids, with a 120,000-unit capacity planned.

Ford Hybrid Models

Ford will modify the next generation of its compact car platform to underpin its hybrid line. That platform will support its Focus (car) and Escape (SUV) lines and may also support the next generation Lincoln MKC. The MKC went on sale this summer and isn’t due for a replacement until two years after the new Ford hybrid line arrives.

Ford’s hybrid plans come as Toyota has signaled that it will gradually shift to hydrogen technology. Toyota won’t abandon the Prius — a new model is schedule for release in 2016 — but the Japanese automaker is heavily invested in fuel cell technology and will be bringing its first production model to the US market next year.

All manufacturers are looking for ways to improve fuel economy as they work toward meeting the EPA-mandated 54.5 mpg fleet average by 2025. GM’s approach to fuel savings will come from bringing in more diesels. Other manufacturers are going with vehicle light weighting, turbochargers, improved transmissions, or all three.

Investing more in hybrid technology is a risk for manufacturers because customers have shown only limited interest in these models. The Fusion Hybrid accounts for one of six Fusion sales, but demand for the C-MAX is down by almost 30 percent through the first seven months of the year. Ford sells standard and plug-in versions of its hybrid models.

Hybrid Technology at Work

Hybrid components originally added more than $5,000 to the cost of a vehicle, but those prices have been coming down. Lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries have or are still replacing nickel-cadmium and nickel-hydride batteries, coming in more efficient and less costly than earlier technologies.

Hybrids are prized for providing fuel economy ratings ranging from about 40 mpg to more than 50 mpg. Chief components include: an electric motor, a power split device, a generator, a small gasoline engine and a battery pack. Regenerative braking, a process that captures kinetic energy from brakes and stores it in the battery and automatic start/stop technologies have also helped make hybrids more efficient.

Further savings can be realized by operating hybrids in eco mode, avoiding hard braking, and going light on the accessories, especially the climate control system. Some drivers have taken to removing roof racks, emptying out cargo compartments and coasting while driving down hill.

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Photo copyright Toyota.