Kia Georgia CEO Talks Supply Chain Disruption and the Coming Era of Electric Vehicles
It’s been a busy start to the year for Kia’s production facility in West Point, Georgia.
Amid supply chain issues and labor shortages, the plant appointed a new president and CEO.
Stuart Countess spoke to WABE’s “All Things Considered” at Georgia Chamber’s “Future of Georgia Summit” at Georgia Tech on Tuesday.
The conversation started around the 2023 Kia Sportage subcompact SUV, which this month became the fourth vehicle model produced here in Georgia.
“It gives us some flexibility to adapt to consumer demand. If they want big SUVs, mid-size SUVs and smaller, it just allows us to scale very easily and keep the whole plant running at maximum capacity,” the Countess said.
Kia had to halt production several times in 2021 due to a shortage of semiconductor chips. But overall, production reached record levels last year, according to the Countess. With more than 350,000 vehicles produced at the plant each year, he notes that the West Point plant manufactures more than half of all Kia vehicles sold in the United States.
But it hasn’t been business as usual over the past year. The Countess says that in the past, production schedules were planned well in advance. Now he is forced to evaluate the program on a weekly – and sometimes daily – basis.
“It’s a bit of an anomalous process, but we’ve found a way, at least in our facility, to deal with that,” the Countess said. “But I think more importantly is how we communicate it to our team members so they can understand why we need to make these changes to production schedules.”
The Countess says the shortage of semiconductor chips remains one of the main problems in the supply chain.
“We’ve seen some levels of improvement, but there definitely needs to be more,” Countess said of the semiconductor chip shortage. “The challenges ahead will be as we transition to electrification, [vehicles] are going to require more semiconductors, so it’s going to require more capacity.
During this month’s Super Bowl, Kia unveiled its EV6 electric vehicle. These cars will not be produced in Georgia for the time being. But with analysts forecasting major strides in the adoption of electric vehicles over the next 8-10 years, the Countess knows the days of the factory producing only gasoline-powered cars could be numbered.
“I think what that really, really means for West Point, Georgia is to prepare ourselves. As with any business, plans evolve as needed,” the Countess said. “But our goal and our responsibility in our factory is to prepare the workforce so that we are ready when [Kia] head office says “we want you to implement this vehicle”.