Kia America names longtime Honda exec Steven Center as COO

Kia America has named Steven Center, a longtime American Honda sales executive, as COO and executive vice president.

Center, Kia said in a news release, will oversee “strategy and execution for Kia’s sales, service and marketing operations” in the U.S. He will join the company Monday and report to Sean Yoon, CEO of Kia North America.

Center was chosen, in part, to advance the Korean automaker’s focus on sustainable mobility and alternative fuel vehicles, Yoon said in the release.

Kia also cited Center’s deep knowledge of the U.S. market.

“Having served in various roles at Honda since 1993, Center brings a wealth of experience to his new role at Kia,” the automaker said.

Center’s responsibilities at American Honda over the years have included production planning, certified pre-owned sales, dealer communication, and export sales and distribution. He most recently was vice president of automotive sales.

“This is a time of tremendous change in the auto industry and I look forward to working closely with the executive management team and retailers to deliver on Kia’s ambitious sustainable mobility plans,” Center said in the release.

Kia America posted record U.S. sales last year, breaking through 700,000 vehicles for the first time, and is rapidly rolling out additional hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles.

But the brand has experienced some turnover at the operations post in the U.S.

In December 2020, Kia America named sales executive Bill Peffer to the COO job effective Jan. 1, 2021. Peffer resigned after a week and took a job with Maserati as CEO for North America.

Before Peffer, the No. 2 slot at Kia America had been held by Michael Cole, who left in June 2020 and moved to Hyundai Europe as CEO.

Cole had been in the Kia operations job for just over two years when he left for Hyundai. Kia and Hyundai share the same parent company, Hyundai Motor Group.

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