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As EV sales mount, Korea consumers will have more choices. Virtually all of the 22 car brands imported into the country offer an electrified vehicle.
SM3 market leader Renault Samsung’s top-selling EV in Korea on small volume.
Their appetites whetted by some of the world’s highest subsidies for electric vehicles, automakers are flooding the nascent South Korean market with strong EV contenders in every vehicle class from minicar to luxury sedan.
The South Korean government’s Ministry of Environment is providing a 15 million won ($13,900) nationwide subsidy for EV purchases, and 10 major cities or provincial jurisdictions are providing additional subsidies ranging from 3 million to 8 million won ($2,800 to $7,400).
The beautiful semitropical island of Jeju, which is located about 60 miles (100 km) south of the Korean peninsula in Korea’s East Sea, is Asia’s most sought-after minimarket, both for all of Korea’s domestic EV producers and most of the major brands imported from other countries.
The Jeju government adds a hefty 8 million won subsidy to the federal incentive for EVs purchased on the island. The combined price abatement of 23 million won ($21,000) nearly halves the EV’s purchase price in some instances, dramatically reduces it in all others and makes the Chevrolet Spark EV less than the cost of a gasoline-powered Spark.
While the federal subsidy is open-ended and applies nationally, there is a limit to the number of subsidies Jeju will grant, although enthusiastic news media often overlook it. For 2014 Jeju has a cap of 500 subsidies, but officials say they are swamped with thousands of applications.
Still, every global EV maker with sights on Asia wants a piece of the Jeju action. The 720-sq.-mi (290-ha) island is a perfect real-life test bed and consumer proving ground for their products, one where the daily driving range is limited by the island’s size and where recharge stations abound.
Jeju’s “Carbon Free Island Plan” calls for the local vehicle population (currently 300,000 units) to be converted totally to non-carbon-producing EVs by 2030, when the projected vehicle parc reaches 370,000.
This will be achieved in steps, with the initial subsidy phase adding 500 new EVs this year, then more subsidies to boost the number to 29,000 by 2017 and to 94,000 by 2020. The island has 500 easily accessible 240V recharge stations, said to be the highest density anywhere in the world. More stations are being added every month.
At the 1st International Electric Vehicle Exposition, held March 15-21 at Jeju’s southern port of Seogwipo, thousands of potential new EV customers tried their hand at driving the various offerings. Journalists, engineers, sales personnel and consumers avidly listened to presentations by all of the automakers.
Though it was not totally anticipated by Expo organizers, competition is super-hot and the South Korean EV market, while quite small, promises to be volatile.
For instance, while the well-regarded Korea Automotive Research Institute predicts a total market of 1,200 EVs nationwide for 2014, three of the key players at the Jeju Expo announced sales targets that substantially exceed the KARI estimate.