2011 Kia Optima

These days, Kia has something in common with Ray Charles: Georgia is on its mind. The Korean company's first US plant – located in West Point, Georg. – is undergoing expansion to meet increased demand for the Optima midsize sedan and Sorento crossover SUV.

Each one of the four main shops – metal stamping, welding, paint and general assembly – is being equipped so production can rise to 360,000 vehicles a year, beginning in 2012 (up from 300,000). Currently, the facility makes the mid-size Sorento, Kia's best-selling vehicle in the States, plus the Santa Fe midsize crossover SUV for Hyundai. But the Optima has proved so popular that Kia's Asian factory cannot keep up, therefore extra production will also take place in Georgia, starting this September.

Along with nearly 1,000 extra jobs being created – bringing the total workforce to over 3,000 – more robots will join the welding facility. As part of its "Made in America" series, ABC News reported recently that one job in the auto industry supports nine others.

The railroad spur that services the factory will also grow to handle the greater number of cars to be transported across the country. All this extra investment adds up to an extra $100 million added into an operation where Kia has already spent $1 billion.

Sister company Hyundai has its own North American car-making plant in Montgomery, Alabama, which also stamps out body panels, paints the metal, and assembles the Sonata and the Elantra. It relies heavily on robotic labor (synchronized elegantly by computers), but the quality of the end product is high, while still being a decent place for humans to work. Given the connection between the two brands, its likely that Kia's operation will follow suit.

author photo

Colin Ryan has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

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