First on the agenda of our flying visit to Kia’s South Korean headquarters was a look around the enormous plant at Hwasung, an hour’s drive south from Seoul.

Built in the late 1980s, the facility covers 3.2 million square metres, with just over one million square metres of buildings. 

There’s also a 2.5-mile high-speed test track and proving ground at the site, and a facility for putting together the knock-down kits which are shipped off to certain markets.

The plant is adjacent to the water where the Asanman Bay meets the sea. It is a heavily industrialised region, and a on a clear day it is possible to see a Hyundai Steel facility on the opposite side of the bay, about three miles away.

Hwasung is one of three production plants in Kia’s homeland, and 600,000 vehicles can be produced there each year. They’re destined for both the domestic market and export, with about 70 per cent of the cars built there exported to approximately 170 countries.

There are 15,000 employees working two shifts, and there are three production lines at the facility. The models produced there at the moment include the Sorento, Optima, Cadenza, Cerrato and Barrego. 

Most car plants follow similar tried-and-trusted processes, but I never fail to be impressed by the size and seemingly unstoppable energetic toil of them.

The journey begins in the press shop, where the panels and parts that will make up vehicle’s outer shell are formed from steel that comes coiled up much like a giant toilet roll. The steel is cleaned of impurities, cut to the necessary size and pressed into a mould to produce the panels. About one-third of the finished vehicle’s weight comes from the body shell.

The nine pressing machines in Kia’s factory can apply between 1000 and 3500 tonnes of pressure onto the panels. There are 500 steel pieces that make up the car, although some of the internal pieces are built by suppliers and transported to the factory. The panels are then stored until they are needed for the next stage of the build in the body shop.

Most of the processes in the body shop are robotised because they can be dangerous, difficult and extraordinarily repetitive. The welding of the panels is carried out by 280 robots. Each vehicle requires approximately 6000 spot welds, of which about 2000 are done in the factory and 4000 on the parts brought in from outside suppliers.