The Turning of Tables: European Car Sales Grow in Korea

DTW has often noted that the Koreans, in the form of Kia and Hyundai, have been selling very competitive products in Europe. But what is happening with European cars in the Korean market?

2014 Renault Samsung SM7: not big in Europe.
2014 Renault Samsung SM7: not big in Europe.

The New York Times reported that Koreans will soon be spending more on imported cars than they earn exporting vehicles. The situation is not symmetrical. While mainstream European brands have probably lost most to the Koreans’ competitive edge, in Korean it is the “prestige” brands that have thrived. The main reason for the change in the mix of cars sold in Korea is a trade agreement dating from 2011. Additionally, Koreans are less shy about buying foreign cars. In the past a major disincentive was that foreign cars were often vandalised.

2014 Ford´s Korean line-up
2014 Ford´s Korean line-up

The NY Times reports that German cars have made up the large majority of imports, led by Mercedes Benz and BMW. Leading the change has been younger buyers in their 30s.

2014 Peugeot line-up in Korea
2014 Peugeot line-up in Korea

It would have been a little more satisfying for the European models if their losses in the EU had been balanced by increased sales of PSA, Renault and Fiat group products. Presumably, most of their vehicles are uncompetitive there for the same reason as they are here. Renault have a joint-partnership deal with Samsung and produce six vehicles locally, most based on Renault designs.

These are mostly produced for the Chinese market though the SM7 is being sold in the Middle East as the Renault Safrane. Fiat are offering only the 500 while Citroen sell the DS line but not the C-line except for the Picasso.

Alfa Romeo´s offerings in the Korean market.
Alfa Romeo´s offerings in the Korean market.

Peugeot market their European car line, as far as I can tell. What about Alfa Romeo? In 2009 Automotive World reported that Alfa Romeo were going to enter the Korean Market. A casual internet search revealed no evidence of this, so that’s another bit of Alfa Romeo vapourware.

Ford’s range is devoid of the Fiesta, C-Max and Galaxy. It seems to generally resemble the US Ford range rather than the European range, reflecting perhaps the ease of transport connections between Korea and the US in contrast to those between the EU and Korea. The Fiesta is the most interesting omission. Conceivably it is just not economic to try to sell this car in Korean when the Korean brands are so strong in this area.

Alas, I can’t read Korean so I have no idea how mainstream European brands are viewed in the motoring press.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

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