Not long ago, South Korea was an impregnable nationalist fortress when it came to foreign imports – but this year the country is getting close to spending more on imports than the figures brought in by exports.
Foreign imports outpacing the local carmakers’ exports would be a first in 24 years and it’s mostly due to German brands making inroads into a market that swiftly changed its taste from extreme patriotism. Not long ago, cars that didn’t belong to local brands could be the subject of targeted vandalism, but today – after a 2011 free trade agreement that saw tariffs eliminated for cars imported from Europe – South Koreans are increasingly attracted to the eponymous German premium experience.
Just a decade ago, imported cars accounted for just 35 of the South Korean market annually, but they have now jumped to 14%. And German brands are 71% of the foreign imports market, with sales being led by luxury automakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz. European imports have risen in value by 60% to $4.6 billion during the January to September period, according to figures taken from the country’s customs service – while sports only made up $4.4 billion. Ongoing trade agreements have turned South Korea from a protectionist country into a source of growth for global carmakers, now expanding their local offerings across all segments in a drive to further drag down the huge market share (almost 70%) Hyundai and Kia have.