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Besides economy and performance, there also is the prestige factor. Bragging rights are a strong feature of Korean culture and the domestic diesels approach the status of the coveted German imports that mostly are diesel-powered.
New Grandeur shares 2.2L all-aluminum diesel engine with Santa Fe CUV.
Diesel cars and SUVs took over the Korean domestic market last year, outselling gasoline- powered vehicles in the country for the first time, and diesel’s advantage is growing.
In 2013 diesels represented 43.5% of Korea’s new car/SUV market with 672,025 vehicles sold, compared with gasoline-powered vehicles’ 42.5% share on 656,128 deliveries.
Liquid-propane-gas vehicles’ share was 11.4%, while hybrids and electric vehicles accounted for just 1.9%.
Diesel-powered car and SUV sales (including CUVs) climbed 13.5% year-on-year, while gasoline vehicles fell 9.3%.
The 2013 result wasn’t an anomaly. Diesels racked up 201,354 unit sales in first-quarter 2014, a 19.4% year-on-year increase, and boosted their market share to 47.3%.
And the increase will continue as each of Korea’s five domestic automakers add to their diesel offerings.
Why the clamor for diesel power? Most analysts and spokesmen for the domestic and foreign automakers who do battle in the Korean market agree on fundamental causes: Diesel mills are more powerful than gasoline engines; they achieve 15% to 20% better fuel economy; and diesel fuel is about 5% to 10%, or $0.50 a gallon, less expensive than gasoline.
The cost savings alone rapidly offsets a diesel car’s $2,500- to $4,000-higher price tag.
But it’s not all about fuel economy. One factor catching the attention of younger drivers is the increased pleasure of driving a car with lots of guts and getaway – one where the driver can pull out from tedious lines of traffic on clogged Korean freeways and let the mill do its thing.
When they put the pedal down they marvel that the diesel vehicle can push them back in their seats, like the gasoline-powered cars of decades ago, before emissions and fuel-economy controls tamed their spirits.
There also is the prestige factor. Bragging rights are a strong feature of Korean culture and the domestic diesels approach the status of the coveted German import vehicles that are mostly diesel-powered.
Two Korean government agencies are helping drive the surge as well, even if their policies aren’t designed to increase diesel sales or affect the market.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy wants to pass a strict new law that would severely penalize automakers whose passenger vehicles can’t generate average fuel economy of 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km). The Ministry would like to enact the new rule in 2015 and sock the automakers with penalties as high as 10% of revenue, if they don't meet the higher standard.
The Ministry of Environment wants to put a tariff on vehicles in 2015 that don’t meet specific carbon-dioxide emissions limits, a reachable goal for clean-running diesels.
Here’s a look at each major Korean automaker’s activity in the diesel market: