Kia Fires President, CEO; Adds VW Exec

LOS ANGELES As Kia Motors America’s annual dealer meeting ended today in Las Vegas, so did the tenure of president and CEO Peter M. Butterfield, who was dismissed without explanation this morning.

The Irvine, Calif., automaker confirmed today that the 52-year-old executive, who rose to president and CEO in January 2003, has left the company. Butterfield could not be reached for comment.

J.H. Lee, previously senior executive vice president, will replace Butterfield. Len Hunt, the former executive vice president of Volkswagen North America, Auburn Hills, Mich., who was slated to become a board member of VW sibling Bentley Motors, will join Kia as evp and chief operating officer.

Hunt had been a vice president at Audi of America, Auburn Hills, before moving to VW 18 months ago. Adrian Hallmark, who joined from Bentley Motors in Crewe, England, where he was a member of the board, sales and marketing, replaced him at VW last month.

Industry observers close to the company had predicted Butterfield’s ouster even before the company filled a crucial marketing position with former Mitsubishi executive Ian Beavis, who arrived in May, replacing the ailing Wally Anderson as vice president of marketing.

Sources said Butterfield had unspecified differences with Korean management.

“It is a rare occasion when an American executive doesn’t have conflict with Korean management style,” said Todd Turner, an analyst with Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif. “He had been on the ropes several months. It’s my understanding that they were walking people right in front of him to interview them. It is a bad time for this. It is changing management for what must be internal reasons invisible to any of us, because objectively Kia is doing very well by all measures.”

Sources said Hunt had been primarily responsible for firing Havas’ Arnold Worldwide as VW’s agency in September, just before he left that carmaker. In spite of that, per Turner, “Hunt felt strongly that the path he’d laid at VW was just about to begin showing returns.”