HWASUNG, South Korea -- Kia Motors recently got what most automakers already have: a five-star European safety rating.
But Kia deserves credit. The car that earned the companys first EuroNCAP top score for occupant safety was the lower-medium Ceed, the first model to roll out of the companys Slovakia plant just opened in April.
So Kias first top safety rating comes from the workers who less than a year ago had never built a single car.
The team responsible for the Ceeds safety engineering says theres more to come.
Every product from now on will have five stars, said Song Young Hyun, director of the Ceed safety team.
The Ceed was designed for Europe, making the five EuroNCAP stars all the more special for the engineers.
The only problem is the European styling Kia chose for the Ceed also led to the one large dent in the safety achievement. EuroNCAP gave the car just two out of four stars in pedestrian protection. This was mostly because of bumper position. Kia struck a compromise between safety and styling, says Baek Youn Ho, a principal research engineer on the team.
Design engineers wanted the current design, Baek said.
The team benchmarked Renaults Megane and Volkswagens Golf, both current models have earned five-star ratings for adult occupants.
Baek says they were more impressed with Renaults balancing of safety and performance.
Kia started safety engineering earlier in product development for the Ceed than for earlier models. They also gave special attention to the Ceeds body structure. High-strength steel accounted for 60 percent of the cars body weight, compared with 20 percent to 30 percent in the Cerato, which earned three stars when crash tested in 2006.
Kia also credits a new active headrest system supplied by Johnson Controls that protects drivers necks during rear collisions.
Kia is working on how to maintain the Ceeds styling while improving pedestrian protection. Engineers are testing a way to make the hood pop up slightly to reduce impact energy.
Hyundai Motor i30 shares a platform with the Ceed. The i30 went on sale in Korea and Europe in summer following the Ceeds Europe-only spring launch. A dispute with EuroNCAP is holding up safety results on the i30. Results from Hyundais r&d center -- which is the same as Kias -- are different from EuroNCAPs, says Jun Ho Suck, senior executive vice president of vehicle development.