Top of the agenda will be profitability. Kia dealers suffered a collapse towards the end of 2005 after three years of rapid sales growth. Profits improved last year, ironically as Kia’s sales dipped by almost 10% (retail sales fell almost 25%), but dealers will be looking for reassurance that the Korean carmaker’s ambitious growth plans do not mean a return to poor margins.
“I’m looking to build open dialogue with the dealers like I did at Toyota,” says Philpott. “My first job is to find out why sales fell last year and then put in place measures for short-term growth and a strategy for long-term sustainable growth.”
He is keen to push back Kia’s 2010 sales target of 100,000 units by a year or two, believing it “is a realistic target, but probably not in that time period”.
Philpott, who has taken a Kia Sorento as his company car, says his “outsider’s view” of Kia was of a brand with a good products range and ambitious growth plans. It had, in appointing Peter Schreyer as its design boss, issued a clear signal of intent to conquer product design.
His family was surprised when they heard he was leaving Toyota – widely tipped to shortly become the world’s biggest manufacturer – for a small brand, but they “understood the challenge”.
He adds: “Staying at Toyota was the safe option – but I don’t do things by the book. Kia UK has the excitement and ambitions of a growing brand and has the back up of Kia Corporation.
On the appointment of Sun Young Kim as Kia UK president and CEO, Philpott says: “It signals the start of a new phase for Kia. We will work well together.”