[VIEWPOINT]User gripes are a blessingThis Internet address, cafe.daum.net/04sorentorecall, takes you to a site called called “Supporters of the 2004 Sorrento Gearbox Recall.” This club is evidence that an e-consumer movement is in full swing. “E-consumer” refers to people who use the Internet to inform others about their experiences with goods and services.
About 300 members of this club filed a rare lawsuit last month against Kia Motor, the manufacturer of the Sorrento sports utility vehicle, asking for 600 million won ($520,000). The target of the complaints was the 2004 model, which has a domestically assembled, 5-gear, automatic transmission.
The number of members of the group quickly rose to over 13,000 shortly after the group was started in March, and the members staged protest rallies with their vehicles in front of Kia’s offices. Kia continues to say, “This is a matter of consumer taste, not of safety,” but announced a recall in June. That failed to satisfy owners, though, because the recall was just to change the electronic program in the gear box. The manufacturer appears to be in a very uncomfortable position, especially since the Sorrento with an imported transmission has been a great success internationally and domestically.
Another group, called Irezzo (irezzo.com) is behind the recall of Rezzo LPG engines. Dozens of consumers are suing GM-Daewoo, seeking additional compensation beyond the recall that the company conducted.
These movements are made possible because of the Internet. Stories of alleged malfunctions are easily gathered, and a communications network among consumers is formed easily. Consumer movements even stronger and more specific than those the American activist Ralph Nader started are now possible. The protests of e-consumers have been responsible for the sudden increase in vehicle recalls in other countries as well.
Sounding a siren through the Internet is now spreading to other areas. An online gamers’ club called the Online Consumer Union (antinc.co.kr) sued a game program maker in July for damages. Among the complaints were frequent server glitches and high playing fees.
Companies and the government still seem to want to cover up commotions by consumers and have a tendency to react unpleasantly. But cover-ups do not work so well in this Internet age. Some enlightened companies use reactions from consumers on the Internet to develop new products. Companies must welcome these consumers as a fan club. Think of them as “a gift of the consumers.” The reason why Japanese products developed their aggressive competitiveness in the 1980s and 1990s is because the finicky Japanese consumers forced them to become No. 1 in the world. If you could satisfy the Japanese consumer to become No. 1 in Japan, you were almost automatically No. 1 in the world.
Thankfully, Korean consumers have developed some of that discriminating attitude needed for companies to meet world standards. Companies need to “share a bed” with consumers. If the five senses of Korean consumers are satisfied, global consumers will stand in line as well.
* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Il