Around the time of Lada’s downfall in the late ’90s, Peter Brown, second-generation owner of Ken Brown, spotted an opportunity with Kia.
Sales of Proton, another franchise Ken Brown Motors held at the time, were also dropping, so the budget brand Kia, with its low investment demands and solid growth prospects, made perfect sense.
Ken Brown Motors now has two sites in Hertfordshire, Stevenage and Harlow. Both locations are ideal.
“They are both new towns which are overspill from London. There is a good social mix ranging from working class to higher socio-economic groups,” Brown says.
Having grown the company on the back of cheap and cheerful cars, Brown believes one of Kia’s strongest points is value for money.
The average new car at Ken Brown Motors is sold for £12,000, although Brown says Kia tends to initially overprice its new cars by £1,000, before realising its mistake and lowering the sticker price.
The Korean manufacturer’s UK operation has had a troubled recent history. When previous Kia management pushed volume dealers initially cashed in. Then it went wrong.
“By 2005, Kia started giving us really stupid targets, so by the following year, it had all started to go a little pear-shaped,” says Brown.
“Kia realised it was losing absolute fortunes – there’s only so much metal you can push – and by the end of 2006, it had retracked.”
Paul Philpott, former Toyota GB commercial director, was appointed managing director early in 2007. “He came in with much more realistic ambitions. He comes round to dealerships to talk to us and listens to what we say,” Brown adds.
He is surprised that the company is doing so well at the moment, considering the fragility of the economy.