Cleveland, Ohio – Two Asia-based automakers shook up their North American management teams on Wednesday.
Jang Won “Justin” Sohn is leaving as Kia Motors America’s (KMA) president and CEO, effective today, to become head of Asia-Pacifica, Africa, and Middle East operations for Kia Motors Corp. SeungKyu “Sean” Yoon, president and CEO of Kia Canada Inc., will replace Sohn. Yoon returns to KMA after previously serving the company from 2006-2012.
And next month, Fred Diaz will succeed Ryujiro Kobashi as president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors North America Inc. Kobashi will return to Japan after a four-year stint in California to take over a sales role for the parent company.
The U.S. market is key to both automakers, especially for Kia which has struggled in recent years as its car-heavy lineup is out of favor as consumers turn to trucks and SUVs.
During Sohn’s leadership, Kia cleared financial milestones, including record-breaking new car sales in 2015 and 2016, and the company’s cars won accolades for improved quality and styling. However, sales fell nearly 9% in 2017 due to the lack of SUVs.
At Mitsubishi, Diaz brings 29 years of sales, marketing, and customer relations experience to the leadership role.
Mitsubishi COO Trevor Mann says, "Fred has a strong ability to proactively engage with Mitsubishi Motors' dealers and customers as we aim to expand our dealership network, enhance our brand, and drive sales growth."
Mitsubishi has been more aggressive than some of its competitors in reshaping its lineup, last year crossing the 100,000-vehicle sales mark to become the fastest-growing non-luxury automaker in the U.S. It’s still far smaller than leaders such as General Motors, Toyota, and Ford (and less than one-fifth the size of Kia).
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.