Kia is now manufacturing the Optima midsize sedan in the United States. The automaker recently announced that the first US-built Optimas have rolled off the line at its West Point, Georgia-based Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG), which also builds the popular Sorento SUV.

Previously manufactured only in Kia's Hwasung plant in South Korea, the Optima will likely continue production at both plants until the West Point facility is fully prepared to handle both the Optima and Sorento. When it does, it's likely all US Optimas will come from KMMG, which has an estimated capacity of around 360,000 vehicles annually.

"Kia has become one of the fastest-growing car companies in the US thanks in large part to the success of KMMG," said B.M. Ahn, group president and chief executive of Kia Motors America and KMMG. "The addition of new team members and the critically-acclaimed Optima to the production line is further evidence of our commitment to the US and local economy."

After an initial investment of $1 billion, KMMG began producing the Sorento on November 16, 2009. According to Kia, the plant's creation added up to 7,500 jobs in the region including the production facility and nearby suppliers. With the addition of a third shift to accommodate the Optima, the plant now employs more than 3,000 workers.

Although costly, Kia's decision to build a plant in the United States was hugely important for its continued growth. Intent on cutting production costs, shipping expenses and vehicle travel times, nearly all foreign automakers have built US plants in recent years - primarily in the southeast, where unions are less likely to form. Some foreign automakers, including Honda and Toyota, have had US plants since the 1980s.

Redesigned for 2011, the Optima has been a big success for Kia thanks to its sharp styling, powerful and efficient engines and a long list of standard features. Kia has sold nearly 50,000 Optimas already this year - more than three times the number sold during the same time last year.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on

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