Import car buyers don’t stop paying

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Import car buyers don’t stop paying

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Kim Kyung-hwan brought his SUV from the United States to Korea a few years ago, and he felt it cost much more than it did in the United States every time it needed repairs. When he complained about the cost, mechanics at the repair shop said, “Imported parts are just expensive.”

“I always feel like I’m overpaying, because I wasn’t able to know the real price,” he said.

It wasn’t only Kim’s problem. Because the government received tons of complaints regarding costly auto parts for imported vehicles, automakers are now required by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to post prices on the Internet. The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) then studied the prices for 30 parts for the first time since the regulation was implemented in August in cooperation with Consumers Korea and announced the results Thursday: The average price for 23 of 30 parts being sold are about twice as much in Korea as overseas.

For a Lexus 300h front fender and headlamp, for instance, the price in Korea was 2.5 times more than in Germany. The average price for the headlamp overseas is 1.05 million won ($941), but it sells for 2.24 million won in Korea. The price for front and rear bumpers for a Mercedes-Benz E300 sedan in Korea is about 1.4 times more than in Germany.

“The reason the headlamp is expensive is because it includes high-end technology,” said Kim Sung-hwan, a spokesman for Toyota Korea. “Compared with other German automakers, the rest of the parts aren’t that expensive. We also think it isn’t right to directly compare the price in the United States, where a total of 270,000 units, or 50 percent, of Lexus’ total production was sold last year.”

A total of 5,400 Lexus cars were sold in Korea in 2013.

“Audi doesn’t set the price by comparing it with other automakers’ prices,” said Jung Yoo-jin, a spokesman for Audi Korea. “The mother company in Germany and each branch in each nation set the price after studying each market.”

Jung said most complaints Audi received from consumers were for not providing a Korean-language service for the auto parts search web page and that problem has been resolved.

The FTC’s report also included the parts price difference between domestic and import vehicles with engines larger than 2,000cc. It said the selling price of the BMW 520d was about 2.9 times more than Hyundai Motor’s LF Sonata, Kia Motors’ K5, Chevrolet’s Malibu and Renault Samsung’s SM5 sedans. But its parts were 4.6 times more expensive than domestic brands. The 1.32 million won price of a headlamp for the BMW 520d was seven times higher than the average price for domestic brands.

“The headlamp for the vehicle [520d] uses xenon light, while many domestic brands use halogen light,” said Jung Jae-yoon, a manager of BMW Korea. “It isn’t fair to compare the price uniformly without considering such features. Consumers also need to know that many of the domestic brands the FTC studied are gasoline models. The 520d model is a [more expensive] diesel model.”

The report also found the average price at private repair shops is higher than at certified service centers. “It is because many private repair shops don’t purchase parts from authorized dealers,” said Kim Ja-hye, head of Consumers Korea. That indicates repair shops may be overcharging.

“Some original parts being sold in the country are cheaper than ones overseas,” said Jung. “The price for a rear bumper in Korea is 613,000 won, while it is 659,266 won in the United States, 626,277 won in Germany and 831,706 won in Japan.”

In a survey the FTC conducted on the fairness of auto parts prices in Korea, 47 of 100 respondents said they don’t really trust the information provided and no one fully trusted it.

Despite such complaints, most foreign automakers continued to ride high in November.

BMW recaptured its No.1 position in the country to end Mercedes-Benz’s two-month stay at the top by selling 3,481 cars, the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association (Kaida) said on Thursday.

In second place was Volkswagen with 2,727 cars sold, followed by Audi with 2,441 and Mercedes-Benz with 2,386.

The best-selling model was Volkswagen’s SUV Tiguan 2.0 TDI Blue motion (690), followed by the company’s Passat 2.0 TDI sedan (674). In third place was the BMW 520d (616).

Kaida added that a total of 16,959 imported cars were newly registered in November, a 3.2 percent increase from October and 22.4 percent from the same month a year ago.

BY KWON SANG-SOO AND KANG BYUNG-CHUL [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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