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Korea becomes important test market for automobile companies

When motor companies launch a new car, they first offer the chance to take it for a ride to their dealers, VIP customers, and journalists before they reveal it to the public. Especially for car models that are introduced worldwide, companies call their customers from all around the world and host a world premiere in one place for everyone.

So far, places such as European vacation spots, California beaches in the U.S., and countries in the Middle East have been preferred as venues for world premieres, but this August, the premium German motor company Audi held its international trial ride event in Korea. This was the first time that a foreign motor company hosted a world premiere in Asia. 

Audi's ride event. (Photo: Yonhap News)

Audi Korea invited 1,600 guests including its VIP customers, reporters, and dealers from nine Asia-Pacific countries such as Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia for the unveiling of the new A6, which was held from August 1 to 19 in the Songdo International Business District in the city of Incheon. The event also included a dealer training session, trial driving, and fan meeting with Korean celebrities for Japanese customers.

In May, the French motor company Peugeot also revealed its new sedan, the new Peugeot 508, for the first time in an Asian country, in Korea. Chrysler also introduced the all-new 300C sedan model during the 2011 Seoul Motor Show in March, before other countries in Asia had had the chance to see the new model. During the presentation of the new model in June, Chrysler Asia Pacific Operations CEO John Kett mentioned that Korea is a core market in the Asia-Pacific region.

The 2011 Seoul Motor Show.  
An imported car industry official said, “If you look at the Korean automobile market as a supplier, it isn’t that profitable, yet Korean customers have such a high standard for products.

“If a new model satisfies the Korean customers, it’s okay to assume that the model will also succeed in other countries. That’s one of the reasons that Korea is becoming an important test bed for global automobile companies.”

Most officials from the imported car industry in Korea said that the Korean market attracts companies since the average income is relatively high and customers are eager to possess the newest high-tech products. Moreover, the country has opened its market to foreign companies through the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and its location in the center of Northeast Asia has helped Korea become the hub of the Asian automobile market.   

Motor shows hosted in Korea have also changed. In 2009, only two models were unveiled in Asian countries, both at the Seoul Motor Show, but a total of 13 cars including BMW’s 650i, Porsche's 918 RSR, and MINI Cooper’s S Clubman premiered in Asia during the 2011 Seoul Motor Show.

The 2011 Seoul Motor Show.
In order to meet the increasing demands for import cars in Korea, more new models are expected to be launched here this year. “It is expected that hundreds of thousands of foreign cars will be imported this year,” said an official from one imported car company in Korea, “The sales in the first half of this year have increased 23.2% compared to the same period last year.”

According to a survey conducted by the Segye Ilbo in July, most CEOs of foreign car companies in Korea said that Korea is known as an important test market, especially in Asia. The consensus seemed to be that Korean customers have good taste and judgment. More countries are expected to use the country’s market as a benchmark.

By Jessica Seoyoung Choi Staff Writer



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