Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

SAN FRANCISCO – Len Hunt, CEO of Kia Motors America Inc., and Ian Beavis, vice president-marketing, have left the company.

KMA officials informed dealers today in a meeting at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention here that Hunt and Beavis resigned their positions this morning.

The two KMA executives could not be reached for comment. Other Kia officials did not return phone calls. However several dealers and others attending the annual NADA event here tell Ward’s the two men were dismissed.

If so, Kia is maintaining its pattern of firing U.S. executives during dealer events. CEO Peter Butterfield was unexpectedly fired at a dealer dinner in Las Vegas in 2005.

The development comes just days after parent Kia Motors Corp.

announced Byung Mo Ahn had been named chairman and group CEO of KMA as well as Kia Motors Mfg. Georgia, where the auto maker is building its first U.S. plant.

Kia officials said Ahn, who has been serving as president of the parent company in Korea, had been appointed to the two newly created positions due to the importance of the U.S. market. Hunt was not mentioned at the time.

Dealers here were told today Ahn now is in charge of all KMA operations, only after dealer Ken Phillips stood up and asked what was going on with Hunt, who had not shown up for the annual meeting.

"I feel like they have some things going on at corporate," Phillips says after the meeting. "But it sounds like they have things under control. Mr. Ahn tells us he is going to move forward."

Hunt moved from Volkswagen of America Inc. to KMA in 2005. He was promoted from chief operating officer to CEO and president last November, replacing Butterfield. Beavis joined the auto maker in May 2005.

KMA officials expressed high confidence in Hunt at his promotion three months ago.

"This decision reflects a solid vote of confidence in the leadership of Len Hunt," E.S. Chung, president and CEO of Kia Motors said. "He has put together and empowered a team of seasoned professionals to help Kia flexibly meet the changing U.S. market situation, and he is the right choice to lead the company going forward."

KMA reached its 300,000-unit target for 2007, with sales up 3.8% to a record 305,473. The Spectra compact was the brand’s bestseller, with 73,474 units. However, the auto maker reported a 5.2% drop in January sales from year-ago.

Dealers coming out of the franchise meeting today appeared positive. According to Wisconsin dealer Russ Darrow, the meeting started flat, but "Ahn rallied the troops nicely," he says. "This company is going to sell a heck of a lot of cars."

Rich LaLonde, onwer of Summit Place Kia in Waterford, MI, says in his three months as a Kia dealer, the company has given him great support. "I still feel good about Kia. I'm confident."

New Hampshire dealer Said Yahapour agrees. "Mr. Ahn is great," he says. "I think in five to 10 years, Kia will be ahead of Toyota (Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd.). Let's talk about the future, not the past."

"The resignations or firings are a concern," says Mark Nadler, president of Lifetime Kia in Morristown, TN. "But I'm very excited about Mr. Ahn coming back. His leadership will be second to none."

cbanks@wardsauto.com