By on December 6, 2012

While Japan may be a “closed market” in the eyes of some, imported cars from America are all the rage in South Korea. Honda is planning on sending no fewer than six American-made cars; the Civic, Accord, Odyssey, CR-V, Crosstour and Pilot will all be sent to South Korea as Honda attempts to become a net exporter of American made vehicles.

The Wall Street Journal cites the abolition of South Korean tarrifs on American and European-made vehicles by 2016 as one factor that should help send more American made cars and trucks to the Asian nation. Nissan and Toyota are getting in on the act too, with vehicles like the Nissan Altima, Infiniti JX and Toyota Venza making their way over.

Imported vehicles in South Korea have long been the sole domain of top-tier luxury brands, and carried appropriately expensive pricetags to boot. But the introduction of more accessible brands like Honda and Nissan should help imports capture 10 percent of South Korea’s auto market – roughly double what they held 5 years ago.

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25 Comments on “U.S. Imports All The Rage In South Korea...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Long production line… some components made in Japan shipped across the Pacific to be assembled in the US to only be shipped back across to the Pacific to Japan’s neighbor to the Northwest.

  • avatar
    NN

    I spent some time in Seoul back in the fall of 2010, and noticed that the Japanese brands are pretty rare on the streets there–Germans seem to dominate the very small import market (nearly everything a Hyundai/Kia/Samsung/Daewoo/Chevy). About 5% import brands sounds right. That said, there were surprisingly some American Fords that I saw here and there, seemed to be just as many Fords as Toyotas or Hondas.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The problem with this is that Koreans still have hostility toward the Japanese. I taught English for a year there, and brought up cars to children a couple times in class. I drew a Toyota and a Honda emblem, with some others.

    Reactions were:
    Toyota – “Oh this is Japan. Very bad.”
    Honda – “This is Hyundai?” “No, it is Honda.” “Oh, Japan car. Bad.”

    • 0 avatar

      Those who live in the past limit their future:

      The Korean-Japanese enmity is not what it used to be. Korean pop (K-Pop) is huge in Japan. Japanese manga is huge in Korea (and China, for that matter).

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Alright, well I got an instant reaction from the children when I showed them a Japanese car emblem. This was in mid 2009, not ages ago. There was plenty of enmity, obviously taught by their parents. I might add the children were around age 9-11 as well.

      • 0 avatar
        PintoFan

        “Those who live in the past limit their future”

        More like “Once bitten, twice shy.” K-Pop isn’t “huge” in Japan, and the Koreans much prefer their own “manwha” over Japanese imports. Prominent Japanese messageboard 2Chan still has a section dedicated entirely to ridiculing Koreans, and people of Korean descent in Japan are still non-persons, legally and socially.

        “Asian unity” is mostly a dog and pony show designed to fool gullible Westerners.

      • 0 avatar
        rnc

        Korea and Japan, I watched a show not long ago (with in years, think it was on PBS world, so not really any Murdoch type initiatives or anything.) Japan spends more on Archaeology, as a % of national budget, than the other members of the G7 combined, in some vain effort to prove that the civilization in no way was transferred from the mainland (especially korea), that magically they just popped up on an island and than migrated the other way. If that isn’t nationalism in the face of science than I don’t know what is.

      • 0 avatar
        billfrombuckhead

        So why did Hyundai withdraw from Japan? I guess Korean Kei cars haven’t caught on as much as K-pop.

      • 0 avatar

        American pop culture permeates the world with our music and our movies and that hasn’t prevented folks from being anti-American. Some might say it provokes anti-American sentiments, others might say that from some quarters it even cultivates those sentiments (like Michael Moore’s documentaries, who took Michigan taxpayers’ film incentive money to make a movie about crony capitalism – let me count the ways of Moore’s hypocrisy from his mansion on Torch Lake to his mistreatment of employees).

      • 0 avatar
        carbureted

        I’ve been living in Seoul for a few years now (married to a Korean, actually), and Bertel is basically right. The sentiment is much less than it used to be. Yes, lots of children will still tell you, “Japan is bad!” but that’s about as far as the anger goes (Well, one must include Dokdo/Onnajima in that fight, I suppose.). It’s just left over aggression from some people in the older generation, and the kids don’t really know why they say it.

        Koreans love, like most others, just about anything mechanical that the Japanese produce. There are Samsung cars here, but most everyone knows it’s just badge engineering. I have never come across anyone who wouldn’t buy a Toyota just because it’s Japanese. I’m sure those people are out there, but then, the KKK still exists, too.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        @Carbeurated. That’s because you are in Seoul and because you are a foreigner.

        Get out in the provinces, particularly towards Jeollada farm country and you’ll hear an earful. Particularly if you can pass for a native.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Whether its Afghanistan or the US, the populace gets more conservative and “anti-foreigner” as you leave the major urban areas and go to the smaller cities, towns and rural areas.

        But even with that, a major reason why imports have a harder time outside the major urban areas is that parts and service for repairs are harder to come by and more expensive than for domestic brands.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    I’m surprised that Koreans would want to buy cars that large, but I guess if you are importing a car, you have enough money.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      There are many larger cars there, just most are Korean models which didn’t make it over here.

      Daewoo Statesman
      Hyundai Equus (now here)
      Kia Enterprise
      Ssanyong Chairman
      Ssanyong Rhodius
      Hyundai Galloper
      Hyundai Terracan
      Samsung SM7

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Oh right, I actually did know about the Daewoo Statesman (see Holden Statesman), but not about many of the others besides the Equus. Thanks for the info.

        It seems like a lot of those cars have been phased out — Enterprise, Galloper. The Rodius is interesting because you can get it as a 4-row vehicle to seat up to 11.

        Do those cars sell in decent numbers? That’s really what I meant — that those big cars sell in sufficient numbers that it’s worth importing.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Yes I think I only saw the Daewoo Statesman once or twice. I noticed it because of how dang long it was.

        Most of these cars were ACTUALLY something else, as with the Statesman, just rebranded and slightly altered for Korea. Galloper and Terracan are Monteros, the Enterprise was actually a Mazda something or other, the Chairman was 85% Mercedes, the SM7 is a Maxima/Renault something.

        But, the thing to know is that IF you’re a big businessman and/or you work at a bank/corp/etc you MUST have a large (preferably black) car. They are all over the place. They sell in great volumes. Koreans are very fond of their large-sized “home cars” as they call them. The Equus is by far the favorite.

        Though I did see one Park Avenue, a couple of Land Rovers, the occasional LS460 (rare) and in my part of town there was a black ~04 Town Car.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        You’re mixing up CUVs, SUVs, MPVs and large sedans there.

        For KDM makes in terms of sedans, in order of popularity its:

        Ssangyong Chairman
        Hyundai Equus
        Renault-Samsung SM7

        In roughly equal numbers with BMWs, M-Bs and Audis, depending on where you are in Korea and what part of town you’re in.

        Lexuses aren’t too popular outside of Seoul (and maybe the other metro cities) but I do spot a lot of them on highway drives.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Not mixing. I was referencing large cars which are volume sellers.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The Korean auto market is more like the US auto market when it comes to cars – they prefer mid to full size sedans.

      There’s a reason why models like the Sonata and Azera are among the top sellers in Korea and why both the 5 and 7 Series outsell the 3 Series.

  • avatar
    challenger2012

    Herr Schmitt. Do you think GM and Ford would be received well in Korea if they imported vehicles, such the equinox, fusion, focus, cruze, fiesta,etc?

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Cruze is an old Daewoo Lacetti, so they’re quite familiar with them.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      Although it’s not as big as Kia/Hyundai, GM Korea is a pretty big player in the KDM.

      Not to mention that the three smallest GM vehicles on the US domestic market – Spark, Aveo/Sonic and Cruze are essentially GM Korea cars. GM doesn’t sell the Equinox here, but they do sell the Captiva, which is a smaller SUV/crossover.

      Ford, OTOH, does have a much smaller presence, but it’s more visible than just a few years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      As stated GM already has a pretty large presence in SK with GM Korea (the Chevy brand is more popular than the old Daewoo brand; Chevy badge replacement kits were pretty big sellers).

      It only makes sense financially for GM Korea to import from the US luxury models – but this is where GM has it work cut out for it, trying to compete with the Germans in the luxury segment (hopefully the new/larger CTS and the Omega flagship will change Cadillac’s fortunes not only in the US, but in overseas markets like Korea).

  • avatar
    Signal11

    “Imported vehicles in South Korea have long been the sole domain of top-tier luxury brands”

    Nonsense.

    I see quite a few Fords (imports), Peugeots, Hondas and Toyotas running around even in the smaller cities in Korea. There’s even a Subaru dealership right across the street from main train station in Seoul, on the opposite side from the MINI dealership.

    I’ve been in two separate Ford Fusion taxis in provincial cities out in the sticks. (Right alongside Grandeur/Azera taxis, Derek.)


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