Auto importers see a breakthrough moment

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Auto importers see a breakthrough moment

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The winners of the domestic car market battle in the first half of this year were foreign brands, led by German automakers including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. In absolute numbers, the number of imported cars sold here is still a small percentage of total sales, but foreign makers are now outstripping Korean brands in market growth. In the first half, the 130,014 imported cars that were sold was an all-time high, a 26.5 percent rise from sales in the first half of last year, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy. Sales of Korean automakers increased by 6.3 percent during the same period.

Foreign automakers want to keep that momentum going, seizing on the chance to improve their market penetration of 15.2 percent in the first half compared to 12.7 percent last year. Korean makers, of course, are fighting back, and both importers and domestic car makers are planning to roll out new models in the second half.

The popular German brands are reading a new car lineup that caters both to Korea’s luxury brand-minded sophisticates and to its environmentalists. After BMW unveiled its new luxury 7 Series sedan in Germany earlier the month, BMW Korea plans to offer it in Korea in October. The company said it would give its VIP customers a private preview of the new model at “New 7 Series Closed Room” soirees between now and July 24.

Using carbon fiber-reinforced plastics that lower the weight of the machine and improved the fuel efficiency, as well as high-end safety options, including an automated parking system, the premium sedan should appeal to Korea’s well-heeled. For consumers seeking the BMW cachet at a more modest price, a revamped compact SUV X1 will also arrive in the second half sporting full-time four-wheel drive. The X1 has a four-cylinder engine. The company will also put on the market an updated version of its entry-level 3 Series sedans that will be offered in four gasoline-engine models and seven diesel-powered ones. Its environmentally-friendly car lineup will be bolstered by an X5 plug-in hybrid.

Mercedes-Benz, the biggest rival of BMW in Korea, will sell an upgraded edition of its B-Class cars and a high-performance coupe, the AMG GT, in the third quarter. It will also offer the S500 plug-in hybrid, the first PHEV developed by Benz, in the fourth quarter. A new radiator grille and headlights will mark the new B-Class machines.

Volkswagen, a popular brand among younger Koreans, will roll out the Golf R in September. It sits at the top of the Golf line in trim; the high-performance hatchback has a TSI turbocharged gasoline engine with 300 horsepower. It also has a full-time four-wheel drive system but still boasts fuel efficiency of 14 km/l (33 miles/gallon).

Jaguar will introduce a mid-size sport sedan, the XE, the first model with an aluminum body in its category. With an expected sticker price of 40 million won ($35,350), it is expected to compete with BMW’s 3 Series and the Audi A4 entry sedans as well as with Hyundai Motor’s Grandeur premium sedan.

Nissan Korea will also join the fraw. It plans to introduce its sports sedan Maxima to target performance lovers. It has a 3.5-liter (0.9-gallon) V6 engine and 300 horsepower.

In response, Hyundai Motor is counting on its new Avante compact sedan, fully redesigned for the first time in five years. Expected to hit the market in the fourth quarter, the sedan has Hyundai’s signature “Fluidic Sculpture 2.0” also seen in its premium Genesis sedan and the mid-size Sonata. Gasoline, diesel and electric versions will be available. The company is also dusting off its luxury Equus sedan to try to win back market share it has lost in that segment to German brands.

Hyundai’s sister company, Kia Motors, will introduce a redesigned flagship midsize sedan, the K5, next week. Kia has high hopes for this car, saying it has already received more than 6,000 pre-orders. It will come in seven models; a 2.0 gasoline, 2.0 turbo, 1.6 turbo, 1.7 diesel, 2.0 LPI, a hybrid and a PHEV. The company will also begin selling a new design of its SUV, the Sportage.

The nation’s third-largest automaker, GM Korea rolled out a new Spark minicar earlier the month and will introduce its large Impala sedan and a diesel SUV, the Trax. Ssangyong Motor will try to regain its reputation in SUVs with the diesel Tivoli and the Korando C LET 2.2, with a new engine that improves on its predecessor’s fuel efficiency of 12.8 kilometers per liter to 13.3 km/l.


BY KWON SANG-SOO [kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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