Big wheels in autos fly in to see local market

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Big wheels in autos fly in to see local market

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From left:Akio Toyoda, Carlos Ghosn, Alan Mulally and Torsten Muller-Otvos


Chief Executive Officers of the top global automakers are jetting into Korea to increase their sales and brand awareness among local customers as the imported car market continues to expand.

Torsten Muller-Otvos, the CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Car, is the latest big wheel to visit Korea. The 52-year-old German held a meeting yesterday to talk about the future business plan of the British luxury auto brand in Korea.

Muller-Otvos is the fourth global CEO to land in Korea in this year.

Starting with Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda in January, the Renault-Nissan Alliance chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn was in Korea in July followed by Ford CEO Alan Mulally last week.

Before them, Honda CEO Takanobu Ito was in Korea last November, followed by Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann last December.

These CEOs introduced new models and announced investment plans.

Toyoda presented the new Camry, while Ghosn came with a “rescue package” for ailing Renault Samsung Motors, announcing that the group would invest $160 million to produce 80,000 units of Nissan Rogue, a crossover sports utility vehicle, at the RSM’s Busan plant annually.

Mulally said that the American auto group was ready to support its Korean operation with the introduction of new vehicles and better marketing.

Industry insiders say that visits show the growing importance of the Korea market.

“Aside from China, Korea has become one of the fastest growing imported car markets in Asia,” said Yoon Dae-sung, the executive managing director at the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, or Kaida. “The free trade agreements with Europe and the United States are also making this market attractive to carmakers.”

For the first eight months of this year, imported car distributors sold a total of 83,583 vehicles, up 20 percent on-year from 69,639 units, Kaida said in its monthly report yesterday.

Last month, sales of foreign-made vehicles in Korea jumped 16 percent on-year to 10,576 thanks to steady sales of popular models and sales promotions.

“August sales declined a little bit because of hot weather and thunderstorms,” Yoon said. “But imported car sales will continue to grow in Korea.”

Korea is also a good testing ground for new models, he said.

“Korea is one of the competitive markets in the world,” he said. “All kinds of cars - diesel, gasoline, hybrid, natural gas-fueled cars - are sold here and local consumers’ tastes change fast.”

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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