REVS UP: A white Kia cee’d SW made history on the 20th of January…..
As it rolled off the assembly line at Kia’s European factory in Zilina, Slovakia, it was cheered by workers hailing the 500,000th car produced at the plant. That alone was worthy of a celebration, but the fact that the car was born a mere three years after the factory opened was an added source of pride for the Korean manufacturer. The half millionth car, made in a plant that cost one billion Euros to build, is destined to be a life-saver. Kia donated it to the local Transplantation Centre, where it will ferry teams and donor organs for transplant surgery throughout Slovakia. You could say that Kia has proved a bit of a life-saver for this corner of Slovakia, too. The firm has brought substantial employment to a little-known region of this picturesque country, with its charming baroque architecture.
Kia’s Zilina factory is doing well. With 2,800 employees, it produced more than 150,000 cars last year. Of those, 21 per cent were exported to Russia, the factory’s largest single export market. The other four-fifths of the plant’s output went to customers throughout Europe, including Britain. With some of the world’s most advanced automotive manufacturing technology, the Zilina plant produces one car a minute on average – that’s the equivalent of 100 cars per employee, per year – a level of output that other manufacturers should envy. At full capacity, the white-fronted factory, that dominates a sparse local landscape of north-west Slovakia will churn out 300,000 cars a year.
The plant has a high degree of automation, including 310 robots that are programmed to meticulously carry out all the welds on every car. Viewed from an overhead walkway, the giant pecking machines make an impressive sight as they stretch far into the distance, performing their coordinated dance as the bodyshells on the way to becoming cars pass slowly underneath.
It is this sheer level of automation that has helped Zilina achieve an enviable reputation for build quality. It has enabled Kia to endorse its cars with an industry-leading warranty that lasts the first seven years or 100,000 miles of the car’s life. It’s a remarkable offer, guaranteeing the vehicle against failure until its mileage has gone round the clock. It’s also one that makes other car companies nervous, as it woos customers with a level of buyer protection that is more than double the standard three years’ cover that’s common across the industry.
Zilina currently produces the cee’d five-door hatchback and cee’d SW estate car that are the mainstays of the company’s range. This year saw the factory begin making the third model in its production portfolio: the Hyundai ix35 for Kia’s sister company. From June, the new generation Kia Sportage will also be produced at the factory. Preparations for it are already well underway.
Engines are produced in an adjoining plant – convenient for the short trip – before they’re shoehorned under the bonnets of emerging cars. Last year’s production figure was more than 243,000 engines – a rise of 37 per cent over the previous year. As well as diesel and petrol units for Zilina-built cars, the engine factory also supplies a Hyundai plant in Nosovice in neighbouring Czech Republic. Diesel engines made in Zilina are the 1.6 and 2.0-litre units that appear across the board in Kia and Hyundai models. Another diesel has just started production there too – the 1.4-litre powerplant found in the new Kia Venga, which has just hit the showrooms.