The Korea Herald


Chinese brands hope to emulate Hyundai’s success

Korean carmakers show off futuristic vehicles in key China market

By Korea Herald

Published : April 21, 2013 - 20:36

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SHANGHAI, China ― No carmaker can afford to ignore China, which became the world’s largest car market in 2009. Brushing off fears of an economic slowdown, its auto sales set an all-time high of 19.31 million vehicles last year. 

And that was more than evident during the media preview day Saturday at the Shanghai auto show, which features 1,300 vehicles in 17 exhibition halls spanning 280,000 square meters.

Korean carmakers also plan to showcase their new models, with which they hope to expand their presence in the all-important Chinese market. 
Guests look around the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition’s media day on Saturday. (AP-Yonhap News) Guests look around the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition’s media day on Saturday. (AP-Yonhap News)

“Currently, 100 million vehicles are running on the Chinese roads. Considering there are 200 million people who own a driver’s license there, the market potential is still big enough,” said Hyundai Motor vice chairman Seol Young-heung.

Learning from Hyundai

The Hyundai Mistra, a new sedan concept developed solely for Chinese customers, was one of the Korean highlights at the media preview.

The concept, which goes by the name Mingtu in China, is positioned between the Sonata and Elantra sedans. The sporty saloon has a bold front styling consisting of a wide radiator grille and a long hood.

The company said that the China-exclusive car, targeting young parents in their 20s or 30s, is scheduled to go on sale as early as November.

“Hyundai has achieved remarkable growth in the past decade, in line with the Chinese auto market’s rapid growth,” said Choi Sung-kee, president of Beijing Hyundai Motor Company. “The Mistra will lead us toward another successful era. We aim to sell 100,000 units of the car annually.”

Hyundai’s affiliate Kia Motors, whose K-series compacts K3 and K5 are enjoying popularity in China, also announced that its premium sedan K9 will hit the Chinese market next year.

Despite the lukewarm response to Kia’s first luxury sedan in its home market, the company hopes to continue its K-series success by developing its new version exclusively for China.

Hyundai and Kia have set a goal of selling 970,000 and 500,000 vehicles, respectively, in China, which would make up one-fifth of Hyundai Motor Group’s global target of 7.41 million sales.

The two Korean players kept relatively low-key at the China show, introducing few new cars. But their Chinese rivals seemed to have been inspired.

“Hyundai is our role model,” said an engineer from Chinese carmaker Cherry. “Its cars have their own characteristics. We admire the chairman Chung Mong-koo’s success story and study to learn (from it).

“Chinese carmakers are growing fast but our global rivals, especially Hyundai and Kia, grow at faster speeds.”

Another sales manager of a Chinese parts supplier noted that Hyundai was clever to move quickly when Toyota was hit hard last year by the China-Japan territorial disputes.

“Until last year, Chinese carmakers focused only on elevating sales volume. But starting this year their priority has become product quality. A real race could start within five years,“ he said.

Korea-flavored Chevy Cruze

GM Korea, despite its absence from the auto show, also reaffirmed its design edge when the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback made its China debut Saturday.

The Cruze compact, whose styling was led by the Korean design team, is the best-selling Chevy model in China.

“The Cruze, regardless of its heritage, has a global appeal, not just between China and Korea, and especially to young customers who want good looks, safety and economical power trains,” said Richard Choi, the director of sales and marketing for Chevrolet in Shanghai.

Ssangyong returns

Ssangyong Motors also pledged to revive its lukewarm Chinese sales with the launch of its premium SUV Rexton W there.

“I would not deny our brand awareness is not positive here. But we have revamped our dealer network and are stepping up efforts to renew our image,” said CEO Lee Yoo-il in Shanghai.

He set the first year’s goal of selling some 8,000 vehicles, hinting that the company could establish a joint venture when its car sales increase to at least 50,000 units.

By Lee Ji-yoon, Korea Herald correspondent