Innovation has been at the core of the automotive industry since the first mass production of an automobile on an assembly line in 1913. Countless technological and design advancements in recent decades have continued to transform automobiles, with the next phase of innovation expected to come from the development of environmentally sustainable vehicles.
“The automotive industry is certainly changing and it’s changing at a pace that we’ve never seen before. A lot of that is being driven by the move toward electrification,” explains Stuart Countess, President and CEO of Kia Georgia.
“Next year, we will introduce EVs into our production lineup.”
For close to 29 years, Countess has been deeply involved in the process of manufacturing cars, working his way up from leading the general assembly department, to Director of Quality Assurance to now being at the helm of the organization as President and CEO.
Recent years have seen expansive plans set up that position Kia toward the future of electric vehicles (EVs).
“Today, with EVs coming in, we have already gathered our teams together from a training point of view, preparing ourselves for the new change in technology. Next year, we will introduce EVs into our production lineup and those products will be intermingled with our existing products,” he adds.
Like countless other companies around the globe, Kia Georgia faced intense challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the firm struggled at the time, a silver lining came from the realization that the old ways of manufacturing were no longer viable.
“Operationally, we went from being able to manage our business on a month-to-month basis to managing on an hour-by-hour basis. We learned a lot of new things out of the pandemic around how to be more flexible while still retaining the basis of how we’ve run our business,” he adds.
Together with the wider automotive industry, Kia is sharing best practices and working with other firms to better understand what works and what doesn’t, with this process expected to continue into the long-term.
“We produced 550,000 face shields, and the benefit that we got out of that was boosting engagement for our entire team in a very difficult period.”
During the early stages of the pandemic, Countess and his team decided to join the fight against COVID-19 and began making face shields to protect members of its community.
“We produced 550,000 face shields, and the benefit that we got out of that was boosting engagement for our entire team in a very difficult period that everyone was experiencing. I think that was a big success.”
In the early days of Kia’s presence in Georgia, a concerted effort was made to engage state agencies like Georgia Quick Start, the state’s acclaimed workforce training program. Countess believes a large part of the success Kia has enjoyed has come as a direct result of maintaining relationships like these.
“Because our products change and we have to retool our workforce, if you don’t have these connections, then you’re losing a valuable resource. We’re benefiting the local community and the state, but those partnerships are there to help us move forward, especially in human resources,” explains Countess.
“Developing these relationships can mean that when a difficult time is coming on, there’s someone you can call to get a better understanding of the situation and then tweak the business model so that everybody’s successful.”
In practice, Kia works together with local technical colleges to ensure the right types of educational programs are being provided to current employees, as well as discussing what training would benefit future employees who want to be a part of the Kia Georgia family.
In Countess’ experience, if these plans are not thought about regularly, essential new hires – who could be the next manager or engineer within the organization – will be missed.
At a time when supply chain disruption has become the norm, Kia has also benefitted enormously by working closely with the Georgia Ports Authority.
“Developing these relationships can mean that when a difficult time is coming on, there’s someone you can call to get a better understanding of the situation and then tweak the business model so that everybody’s successful,” he adds.
Building on long-standing relationships, Countess and Kia are preparing to turn the potential of EVs into a reality. The next phase of the automotive industry is set to be just as impactful as the early breakthroughs that followed the first motor vehicle. Kia is set to be at the forefront of this journey.
When it comes to customer experience, Countess is constantly looking for ways to improve and better meet customer needs in areas such as product design and quality.
“If you’re not continually moving forward, then you’re going to get left behind – there’s no doubt about it. You have to stay in touch with what the consumer is looking for by listening to their voice and you’ve got to evolve the brand to meet what the consumer wants right now.”
This process has been ongoing since Countess joined Kia and he believes the company has revolutionized its product design, as well as its product quality.