For many companies, success in 2010 was defined as modest recovery from the previous year’s recession.

In its first full year making cars in Georgia, Korean automaker Kia Motors America was an exception.

It was a banner year in just about every way for Kia in the U.S. Vehicle sales grew by 18.7 percent to 356,268 compared to a dull 2009, giving Kia its largest share ever of the U.S. auto market: 3.1 percent.

The Georgia-made Sorento led the way. The SUV accounted for more than 30 percent of sales, becoming Kia’s first model to surpass the 100,000 mark.

Company leaders said the sales achievements reflected Kia’s advances in vehicle design and marketing.

“Our significant sales milestones in 2010 demonstrate Kia’s growing brand significance in the U.S. market,” said Byung-mo Ahn, group president for Kia Motors America and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, in a news release. Mr. Ahn added that 2011 provides an opportunity for the company to continue the growth spurred in 2010 by several new models across a variety of vehicle categories.

The company plans to introduce new models this year as well, according to the release.

Kia started production at its $1 billion-plus plant in West Point, Ga., in November 2009. The plant can produce 300,000 vehicles per year at full capacity. It is currently manufacturing the Sorento and recently added production of Hyundai Santa Fe, an SUV formerly made at the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala., Hyundai and Kia are sister companies.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article said Kia was producing Hyundai Sonata sedans at its Georgia plant. This version has been updated to correct the Hyundai model. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...