It seems Kia can do no wrong, as the South Korean manufacturer – armed with its market-leading seven-year warranty – continues to go from strength to strength. And it recently reached a hugely significant landmark.
Kia’s European headquarters might be in Frankfurt, Germany, but production is centred around its hi-tech plant in Zilina, Slovakia, where 300,000 examples of the Cee’d, Sportage and Venga are produced each year. It’s here where the one millionth Cee’d has just rolled off the production line since it all started back in 2006.
To celebrate the milestone, Auto Express flew to Slovakia to learn more about the manufacturing process – and help build model number 1,000,001.
Walk through the doors and what immediately strikes you is how clean and modern the place feels. It’s been up and running for nearly a decade, but it looks as fresh as the day it opened. Everyone is given clean overalls and bright white gloves, plus steel toe-capped boots and – if necessary – goggles and a cap. Safety is the number one priority, both in the factory and in the cars. In fact, the current-generation Cee’d was the first Korean car to be awarded the full five stars in Euro NCAP’s stringent crash safety tests.
Quality is central to everything Kia does, too, and that’s backed up by that brilliant seven-year warranty. More than 360 of Kia’s Zilina employees – around 10 per cent – are dedicated entirely to quality control, so it’s no surprise to learn the Cee’d came 38th out of 200 models in our Driver Power 2015 owner satisfaction survey.
The factory is frankly enormous. It consists of five areas – press, body, paint, engine and assembly shops – using 470 robots and 3,800 highly skilled workers.
We weaved our way round the entire site, starting in the press shop where five million panels are manufactured each year – with a new one stamped every 20 seconds. Further down the line, the 100 per cent automated body shop applies 5,750 spot welds to each and every Cee’d.
All this is done before the models are moved to the paint shop – a 7.5km loop of pre-treatments, electromechanical coating, surface treatments and 360-degree rotation dipping. More than 50 robots participate in the sealer and paint application to apply any one of 12 different colours currently available on the Cee’d.
Then it’s on to the engine shop where each powerplant is comprised of around 250 parts. Kia manufactures nearly half a million engines each year in Slovakia, sending a large proportion to sister brand Hyundai’s plant over the border in Nošovice, Czech Republic, where they’re used in the i30, ix20 and ix35. Hyundai makes gearboxes at that facility, and sends them to Zilina in a kind of like-for-like swap.
After following our car through the factory, it was time to get our hands dirty. We joined a team of six in the assembly shop who are tasked with fitting the interiors – everything from steering wheels to door trims – to all three Kias made in Zilina. It’s a seamless process, with each worker lifting numbered parts from specially equipped racks, before sliding on to the doorless cars and tightening the bolts.
We were given the seemingly simple yet remarkably nerve-wracking job of fitting the steering wheel to Cee’d number 1,000,001. The factory knows the order in which the cars come down the production line and the parts are arranged accordingly. That means you have to ensure you lift from the right end of the shelf, or else a Venga wheel could end up on the dashboard of a Sportage – and as you might imagine, the two are significantly different.
Luckily, there was plenty of help on hand to guide us through the process, with sufficient practice before our prize car arrived in line. The gleaming white pro_cee’d – right-hand drive, of course – had no wheels or doors, but the seats had been fitted and the dash screwed in, so it was simply a case of slotting on the steering wheel and connecting a few wires for the multifunction audio controls. With the initial process signed off, we also helped fit trim to the door and attach the boot spoiler.
We then sent the hatchback on its way to the next station. We’re assured we did a sound job – and now one of our lucky readers will be able to check out our craftsmanship for themselves!