When Kia launched the new Soul in Korea last fall, negative comments about some interior features filtered back to the company. Kia quickly mobilized its designers and engineers to fix the issues, not waiting for a yearly model change to make the remedies.
“Things move much quicker here than they do at Ford,” says Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing for Kia Motors of America. He came to Kia about a year ago after a stint at Ford. As an example of quick movement, Sprague says the Soul concept made its world debut at the Detroit Auto Show in 2006 and went on sale less than three years later in Korea in 2008 and is now on sale in the U.S. as a 2010 model.
The principal complaints of Korean customers who purchased the Soul focused on the front side doors and the center console between the front seats. Hard plastics in the doors were unacceptable to early Korean buyers.
The same complaints were voiced by American automotive journalists earlier this year after they tested part of a small fleet of Korean spec cars brought to California for evaluation. In addition, customers and journalists complained that the center console made it difficult to lift and release the parking brake.
“We will do running changes in the doors starting in June,” Sprague says. The hard plastic in the door liners below the windows will be replaced with a cloth insert that is softer to the touch. It took only four months to make the change in the front doors from when the problem was first noted by Korean customers. Kia will use the same kind of cloth inserts in the doors of the new Forte, scheduled to go into production in April and on sale in the U.S. in June.
Kia will also use a “soft paint” on the grab bars of the Soul’s front doors to provide a softer, more lubricious touch. “The soft paint is used by high-end manufacturers a lot,” Sprague says. Kia collaborates with the same suppliers to effect the changes, he says. The console supplier rushed a redesign of its component through in 30 days so that it was ready for production for the U.S. launch of the Soul.
This kind of continuous improvement is part of the Kia drive to respond quickly to customer reaction.