What is in this article?:
- Generous Subsidies Generate EV Appeal in South Korea
- Renault Samsung, Kia, BMW First to Korean Market
- Nissan, Chevrolet, VW Joining EV Battle
- Korea EV Players Range From Tiny Mia to Giant VW
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.
Nissan, Chevrolet, VW Joining EV Battle
Samsung, Kia and Korea are not alone in staking claim to Korea’s EV market.
also exhibited at the Jeju Expo. It operates 12 showrooms and 10 service centers in key Korean cities and has a solid and growing presence. In February, the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Assn. ranked Nissan seventh among its top 10 performers, selling 327 units for the month.
’s Billy Hayes, vice president-electric vehicle operations and head of the global Leaf program, says the automaker will introduce the Leaf EV in Korea late in second-half 2014. Many Expo visitors test-drove the Leaf, and Hayes’ team racked up a number of preorders.
“We can deliver as many Leaf units as our Korean customers want,” he tells reporters.
Taking advantage of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, Hayes plans to import the Leaf from the U.S. plant in Smyrna, TN, with deliveries to customers beginning around November. It will be marketed initially only on Jeju.
The Leaf is somewhat pricey in Korea, ranging from 50 million-55 million won ($46,000- $51,000), but the federal subsidy lowers the cost to 35 million-40 million won ($32,400- $37,000). The Jeju subsidy cuts it further to 27 million-32 million won ($25,000-$30,000).
Without elaborating, Nissan spokesmen say the Leaf as sold in Korea will have more features than those available in other markets. Some of that has to do with Korean government regulations.
Reports from China indicate Nissan also is discussing a joint venture withto produce the Leaf in that country.
One might anticipate that major home player GM Korea’s Spark EV would gain some sales momentum this year. While the minicar that is produced only at Changwon on Korea’s south coast has done well as an export vehicle to the U.S., it hasn’t caught on in Korea thus far.
Launched in October, the Spark EV sold just 40 units in Korea in 2013. In the U.S., GM delivered 614 units between its June launch and year-end.
GM Korea sold 14 Spark EVs domestically in January, and in February it managed to deliver just two. In the U.S. 93 units were sold in January and 71 in February.
Analysts are not surprised by the EV’s poor showing in Korea. They say consumers regard the regular gasoline- or diesel-powered Spark as the perfect urban vehicle, offering a good ride, ample power, good looks and appointments, low operating costs and local parking benefits.
With these attributes, few customers think of reducing operating costs a little more by making the considerably higher investment in a Spark EV. But GM Korea has yet to market the car in earnest. It had a team pitching at the Jeju show and consumers were lining up to drive the minicar over the scenic, semi-mountainous roads. Many were pleasantly surprised.
A GM Korea spokesman declines to give WardsAuto a 2014 sales target, noting “electric vehicles are still a developing market segment in Korea.”
The spokesman says, “The Spark EV manufacturer’s suggested retail price in Korea is 39.9 million won ($37,000). In the case of Jeju, the price of the Spark EV is about 17 million won ($16,000) after the full Korean government incentive and the Jeju incentive.”
That’s less expensive than the gasoline-powered Spark and presumably a giveaway price in many consumers’ eyes.
When GM Korea CEO Sergio Rocha announced the Spark EV program in August, he said the automaker was looking at electrified applications for other vehicles, as well.
“We continue to look at other advanced- propulsion technologies and believe (the) EV has a place for a specific customer and use,” says a GM Korea spokesman.
Should the Spark EV start to resonate, it would become another major player, with a size and style aimed at widespread appeal. Indeed, the gasoline/diesel Spark by far is the biggest seller in GM Korea’s portfolio.