Kia Motors America has been on a sales rocket ride to the top for more than a year, and it has taken Ed Braun's Columbus dealership with it.
The next stop for the general manager of Kia Auto-sport will be the debut of his state-of-the-art dealership on Whittlesey Boulevard sometime in May.
"We had some real good weather to start with, so we kind of got ahead of schedule. Then we hit the rains," Braun said of the 35,000-square-foot showroom and 400-vehicle car lot that has been under construction since last October. "But, all in all, it's coming together. We should have our storefront windows starting to go in a week from today. We really believe that we can get in there sometime in mid- to late May. That's our target."
The $7.5 million dealership, the latest design by South Korean automaker Kia, is being constructed on five acres of land near the intersection of Whittlesey and Moon Road. It's on the eastern end of the Columbus Park Crossing shopping and restaurant area, across from North Highland Assembly of God church.
The dealership will include 30 service bays, wireless Internet access, heated and air-conditioned service bays and other creature comforts aimed at creating a customer-friendly atmosphere, said Braun, who also is touting the facility's energy-efficient construction.
"It's going to be all the newest and greatest," he said. "Square footage and acreage-wise, it will probably be the biggest Kia dealership in the Southeast when we finish up."
The workforce will be increased as well, he said, with the current staffing level of about 50 people doubling to 100 or more.
"We're getting a lot of interest from people who know that we're going to be open soon," Braun said of employment prospects.
He confirmed the existing Kia dealership on Box Road will remain open, with it becoming a pre-owned vehicle supercenter of all makes and models. The dozen service bays there also will be available for Kia warranty service.
The much-improved digs that Braun and his expanding staff are destined to inhabit come with Kia Motors America on a torrid sales pace. The company has reported record sales for 18 consecutive months, adding up to a red-hot 2011 in which it sold more than 485,000 vehicles in the U.S., up from just over 356,000 in 2010.
That momentum has continued through February of this year, with the Optima sedan leading the way, followed by the Sorento crossover utility and the Soul, a small passenger vehicle.
Kia executive Byung Mo Ahn, who oversees the U.S. market and the automaker's assembly plant in nearby West Point, Ga., noted in a release that his company has changed dramatically in the last three years.
He attributed the success to more people simply taking a look at Kia's models, "dramatically improved" customer loyalty, and the quality of the West Point facility's workforce.
The plant recently celebrated the assembly of its 500,000 vehicle, a feat accomplished in just over two years.
None of the milestones are lost on Braun, who recalls Kia's reputation for poor quality and design when it first entered the market in the 1990s. He has now been selling the brand for more than a decade.
"I feel like we've been very blessed to be involved with Kia, and it's been such a dramatic transformation. Quite honestly, it has been incredible," said the general manager, who acknowledges having the Sorento and Optima manufactured just north of Columbus is a strong selling point.
"It's been great for us and the whole area," he said.
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