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Kia plant likely bound for Mississippi

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's second-biggest auto manufacturer, Kia Motors Corp., plans to pick a site for its U.S. plant by the end of this year and the Mississippi is the likely place, its president said Wednesday.

Kia was studying potential sites for a U.S. plant and "Mississippi has a high chance," President Chung Eui-sun was quoted as saying by a company spokesman. Chung did not elaborate.

The United States is the biggest overseas market for Kia, which has a 23 percent share of the South Korean market. It is an affiliate of South Korea's top car manufacturer Hyundai Motor Co., which opened its first U.S. plant in Alabama in May.

Kia has considered Mississippi, recently hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, as a strong candidate for the plant as the location enables Kia to share parts supplies with Hyundai's nearby Alabama plant.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour visited South Korea in August to lobby for the building of the Kia plant in his state.

A Kia official told Reuters the company wanted to build its own U.S. plant before facing a situation of tight supplies. Kia aims to sell 290,000 vehicles to the United States this year.

"At our current capacity, we have to cut sales in other regions if we sell more than 300,000 units in the United States," said the official, who declined to be named.

"A plant will normally take two-and-a-half years to build, and we want to do it as fast as we can, before having supply problems."

Kia derives nearly 80 percent of its total earnings from exports. In August, its sales rose 27 percent from a year ago, led by a 37 percent jump in exports.

Kia is building its first European plant in Slovakia and plans to start production in December 2006.

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