By on November 16, 2010

South Korea is a small country. With 48.6 million people crammed into an area roughly the size of Indiana, South Korea has one of the world’s highest population densities. It also has an amazing auto industry.  Like Germany in the 50s, and Japan in the 60s, Korea was the laughing stock of the 80s. That arrogant grin has frozen.  South Korea is a feared competitor the world over. Let’s have a look at the feisty little runt.

Rank Country/Region 2009 2005 2000
1 People's Republic of China China 13,790,994 5,708,421 2,069,069
2 Japan Japan 7,934,516 10,799,659 10,140,796
3 United States United States 5,711,823 11,946,653 12,799,857
4 Germany Germany 5,209,853 5,757,710 5,526,615
5 South Korea South Korea 3,512,916 3,699,350 3,114,998

The South Korean automobile industry is the fifth largest in the world in terms of production volume and the sixth largest in terms of export volume. The South Korean new car domestic market is good for slightly above a million units a year. The South Korean car industry produced 3.5m units last year, down from 4m units in 2008. What are they doing with all those cars? They export them. South Korea has one of the world’s highest export to domestic consumption rate.  Japan exported about half its production last year. Germany a third. South Korea exports about 70 percent of its production.

These numbers hide the true power of the South Korean car industry. Just like Japan, South Korea is a big exporter of car factories.  South Korea’s powerhouse Hyundai-Kia sold 4.6m units worldwide in 2009, a million more than the total South Korean production.  According to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reports,  South Korea’s five automobile companies  sold 5.44m units worldwide in 2009. Again, only 3.5m units were produced at home.

Just like Germany,  Korea  was not totally unscathed by carmageddon, just like Germany, South Korea survived it with minor bruises. A crisis is always an opportunity for those who make it through it unharmed and with cash in the pocket.  Contrast the dark blue (Germany) and the light blue (South Korea) line with the USA (green) and Japan (purple.) Ouch!  Germany and South Korea were not as exposed o the toxic U.S. market as Japan was and is. But Korea’s Hyundai definitely captured more of the rebounding U.S. market with an attractive line-up and clever marketing. 400,000 of the 500,000 cars Hyundai sells in the U.S.A. are made in the U.S.A.

And while you are at it, have a look at the red line: China.

China is one of the reasons why Germany and South Korea got through carmageddon alright: Both countries export a lot to China and maintain a heavy presence in the world’s largest auto market. Shanghai (SAIC) has GM and Volkswagen. Beijing (BAIC) has Mercedes and Hyundai.  If you step out of the Beijing airport, you’d think all of China is full of Hyundais, because most of Beijing’s taxi fleet is. If you step out of the Shanghai airport, you’d think China is still riding around in old Santanas.

Worldwide sales 2009
Hyundai-Kia 4,641,756
GM Daewoo 578,758
Renault Samsung 189,813
Ssangyong 34,936
Total: 5,445,263

If all South Korean automakers except Hyundai-Kia would close, the world would not even notice. Actually, it doesn’t already. You will only find Hyundai-Kia in OICA’s World ranking of manufacturers, the other South Korean makers are rolled into their parents’ numbers. Ssanyong was an experiment by SAIC. It ended in a fiery disaster.

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8 Comments on “Korea Week: A Look At Their Auto Industry...”

  • avatar

    Washing and waxing all those cars would truly be a Herculean task.

  • avatar

    I’ve heard the claim that 400k of the 500k Hyundai’s sold in the USA are made here, but I have a hard time believing it.  I’d like to see that figure broken out by model.  Currently, the only Hyundai’s made in the USA are the Sonata and Santa Fe.  The Elantra alone, I believe, is good for about 100k sales or so, and is made in Korea, not USA (next gen will be, though).  The Tuscon, Accent, Genesis, Azera, Entourage, etc. are all Korean made.

  • avatar

    That graph showing US production in a nose dive should be a HUGE wake up call to Americans.

    Korea is raping you all and you just keep on buying!  Does the lowest price really mean more than millions of fellow citizens being out of work…

    Keep buying foreign!

  • avatar

    Korea is raping you all and you just keep on buying!  Does the lowest price really mean more than millions of fellow citizens being out of work…
    Keep buying foreign!
    Worry not, tax cuts for millionaires are going to create enough Jobs to keep all Americans gainfully employed for generations to come

  • avatar

    That’s even more impressive when you divide the auto production by population for cars produced per capita:

    China 0.01
    Japan 0.06
    USA 0.02
    Germany 0.06
    Korea 0.07

  • avatar

    Maybe building cars is an old, dirty, resource-intensive industry that advanced countries would prefer to move beyond.  That’s a sweeping generalization, but perhaps it’s part of what’s going on here.

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