Gasoline makes a comeback as diesel vehicle imports dip

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Gasoline makes a comeback as diesel vehicle imports dip


Gasoline cars have made a comeback in the imported vehicle market, outshining diesel cars in market share for the first time in six years this year. The global financial crisis and Volkswagen emissions scandal were some of the key developments that swayed consumer preference for different fuel types over the years.

In 2003, the ratio of imported gasoline cars to diesel cars was 97.8 to 2.2, according to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association. Back then, Europe was the only source of diesel-powered passenger cars. Korean carmakers, on the other hand, were the exclusive producers of diesel SUVs internationally.

In an effort to protect domestic carmakers, the Korean government set high emission standards against diesel passenger cars to discourage foreign imports. At the time it required all diesel passenger cars to meet high standards comparable to today’s Euro 6, while only the Euro 2 standard was being enforced in Europe.

That all changed in 2003, when diesel cars from French manufacturer Peugeot entered Korea. The Peugeot models, which allowed Korean consumers to drive passenger cars on relatively cheap diesel for the first time, helped dismantle long-held presumptions that SUVs were best run on diesel and other passenger cars on gasoline. The government also began lowering regulations on diesel cars ahead of plans to export Korean diesel SUVs into European markets.

Since then, the market share of imported diesel cars progressively inclined every year until 2015. The market share of diesel cars was at 22.4 percent in 2009 and 35.2 percent in 2011, before soaring to 50.9 percent in 2012 and 68.8 percent in 2015.

The popularity of gasoline passenger cars suffered with the rise of diesel. Their share in the imported vehicle market was at 61.1 percent in 2011, before plunging to 44.2 percent in 2012 and 26.9 percent in 2015.

The global financial crisis also boosted diesel sales by encouraging consumers to save on fuel. International oil prices also spiked.

“Diesel passenger cars by luxury European manufacturers like BMW and Audi met customer needs in brand satisfaction, fuel efficiency and performance, bringing diesel car sales up,” explained Yoon Dae-sung, vice chairman of the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.

The ascent of imported diesel cars seemed unstoppable until late 2015 when the so-called “Dieselgate” broke out, uncovering Volkswagen’s practice of programming diesel engines to cheat on emission tests. Some diesel models of the German luxury brand were found to have been reducing emissions during testing, but emitting up to 40 times more on the road.

“Sales of diesel cars plunged as consumers developed the idea that diesel engines themselves were at fault, when emission reduction devices were actually to blame,” one expert explained.

As a result, gasoline imports began to rebound after hitting a low of 26.9 percent in 2015. Its market share rose to 33.9 percent in 2016, then 43 percent in 2017. This marked a stark contrast to diesel imports’ faltering market share of 58.7 and 47.2 percent during those years.

Now, gasoline vehicles are ruling the import market once again. Gasoline cars outsold diesel cars by over 5 percent for the first two months of this year.

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