Shake-up at Kia as Top Execs Leave Automaker

Automotive News: CEO Hunt Resigns After Two Months; Marketing Chief Beavis Also Out

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Barely two months after being promoted to CEO of Kia Motors America, Len Hunt has resigned, company officials told dealers at a Kia meeting yesterday during the National Automobile Dealers Association conference, according to a report in Automotive News.
Len Hunt
Len Hunt
Mr. Hunt joined the company in October 2005 as chief operating officer. Officials also confirmed to dealers that Ian Beavis, VP-marketing, also has left the company. In an e-mail to Automotive News on Saturday, Mr. Beavis said he could not comment. Mr. Hunt did not return phone calls.

It is not immediately known why Messrs. Hunt and Beavis left their positions.

On Feb. 5, Kia announced that Byung Mo Ahn had been named to the newly created position of chairman and group CEO of Kia Motors America and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, the automotive plant currently under construction in West Point, Ga. Mr. Ahn most recently held the position of CEO of Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia.

"Ahn was appointed to this position due to the importance of the United States market to the automotive industry and in terms of Kia's global operations. He will be based at KMA's corporate campus in Irvine, Calif.," Kia said in a prepared statement.
Ian Beavis
Ian Beavis

The statement further said that "Ahn brings to the organization more than 30 years experience with the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group. Ahn has held various positions within Kia Motors Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co., including president and CEO of Kia Motors America from 1999 through 2001 when he guided the company through unprecedented growth and record sales of more than 40 percent during his tenure."

Mr. Hunt replaced Peter Butterfield, who was fired as CEO of Kia Motors America at a dealer meeting in October 2005. Mr. Butterfield was hired by Mr. Ahn.

Kia's sales had risen under Mr. Hunt, and that's why he was promoted to CEO, the company wrote in a release Nov. 12, 2007.

"This decision reflects a solid vote of confidence in the leadership of Len Hunt," E.S. Chung, president-CEO of Kia Motors Corp. wrote in the statement. "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."

Kia's sales were down 5.2% to 21,355 units in January 2008 compared to January 2007. All car nameplates were up except the full-sized Amanti sedan. Truck sales were down 30.7%.

Kia will begin selling the Borrego, its first midsized V8 powered SUV in the U.S. in late spring or early summer as a 2009 model.

Mr. Hunt, 51, had been exec VP of VW of America before joining Kia as COO. Before that, he was VP of Audi of America. Mr. Hunt joined Kia because he did not want to accept a VW position that would have required him to go to Europe to oversee worldwide marketing for Bentley.

Mr. Beavis, 54, joined Kia in May 2005 after leaving Mitsubishi Motors North America in November 2004 as VP-marketing. Beavis also worked in marketing at Ford of Australia and Lincoln-Mercury Division in the U.S. He worked on the Toyota account at Saatchi & Saatchi and headed the San Francisco and Seattle offices for Foote Cone & Belding on the DaimlerChrysler account.

The Koreans have been at odds with their American executives in this country.

In addition to Mr. Butterfield being fired in 2005, Bob Cosmai, the CEO of Hyundai Motor America, was fired in January 2006. He was replaced by Steve Wilhite, who was hired as the COO in August 2006. Mr. Wilhite left the company in September 2007.

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Kathy Jackson is a reporter for Automotive News.
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