Five years on from its take over by rival Hyundai, Kia Motors Corporation is proving to be a resilient Korean car maker, with four consecutive years of profitable growth and sales.

Critics believed that Kia would disappear quickly following its takeover in 1998, citing the dominance of the Hyundai family group that it was believed would blunt Kia's traditional technical marketing inventiveness.

Five years later, the critics concerns have proven unfounded. Kia Motors reported first quarter sales of 260,789 vehicles in 2003 - a 21% increase over 2002 which was itself a record year. In Europe, first quarter sales increased by 50.3% over the previous year, the fastest rate of growth of any manufacturer.

In March alone, European sales were up 66.7%. In Australia, official VFACTS figures show Kia to have increased its sales by 22.5% in April compared to the same period last year.

Growth was more sedate in the United States, with first quarter results showing a 3.8% increase over 2002.

Since the 1998 takeover, Kia has never faltered, recording four straight years of profitable growth despite declining sales throughout the automotive industry. And with each line worker producing 35 cars per year, Kia claims to be one of the most productive manufacturers in the industry.

"The Kia lineup has never been stronger," said COO Yong-Hwan Kim, head of Kia's international business division.

"We've come a long way from the days when our principal export was the Pride mini-car. Today we have an exceptionally competitive, well equipped vehicle in almost every segment in the market."

The retirement of the Pride left a gap in the Kia lineup in the A-segment that will be filled when Korea's second largest automaker unveils a new minicar at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. This will be one of 16 vehicles that the company plans to launch in the next five years.

In 2004, Kia Motors will celebrate its 60th anniversary, traditionally the age at which Koreans consider their life's accomplishments to be complete.

"We've made a great deal of progress, but there's still work to be done," said Kim. "We are making significant improvements in quality and styling to produce cars that people really want to own. But we've really only just got started. Kia is going to surprise a lot of people over the next few years."