A Maserati Quattroporte, whose characteristic jazzy exhaust sound is admired as music among car enthusiasts, was recently stopped by a police officer in downtown Seoul for making “excessive noise.”
The driver explained he hadn’t modified the car, but it was useless. The police officer seized the vehicle. The owner, who got the car back the next morning, is reportedly preparing a lawsuit.
“That’s very unthinkable in Germany,” said Cha Ji-won, CEO of A-Seung Automotive Group, the official Korean importer of German premium tuning brands, including Brabus, AC Schnitzer and ABT.
|A-Seung Automotive Group CEO Cha Ji-won poses with a Mercedes-Benz A Class modified by Brabus at the company’s showroom in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
“As part of the Korea-EU FTA, all the vehicles and car parts, including tuning components, are imported legally without restrictions. But modified cars still become targets of police intervention and public scorn.”
According to Cha, automotive tuning is a well-accepted culture in Germany for those who want to enjoy cars to their limits.
German luxury cars such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz are produced to perform at only about 65 percent of their potential to meet different regulations around the world. This compares to almost 95 percent for Hyundai or Toyota cars.
“It is very natural for Germans who want to elevate the remaining 35 percent to consider upper models like the M Series and AMG versions or visit separate tuning shops,” he said.
“For the ultimate exclusiveness, high-end customers seek specialists like AC Schnitzer for BMW and Brabus for Mercedes that offer almost unlimited tuning services for their dedicated cars only.”
Cha, a former lawyer, entered the automotive tuning industry eight years ago. The drastic career change was ignited by his own desperation to find AC Schnitzer components for his BMW.
Until recently, Korean customers had to rely on a few independent importers to buy quality tuning parts for the top-tier brands. Aside from the expensive prices, they could not expect any after-sales service.
For them, the recent launch of the official Korean importer was long-anticipated, welcome news, which also reflects the stunning growth of the nation’s import car market overall.
Cha declined to reveal the specific sales figures but said the market reaction is “explosive.”
“The prices are still quite expensive,” he said. For instance, it takes about 12 million won to replace the four wheels with Brabus versions.
“The high-end tuning market, together with import car sales, will further expand in the coming years with a growing number of people seeking more prestige and exclusiveness.”
Last week, Brabus, which is specialized in turning Mercedes-Benz cars into road rockets, became the latest brand to join A-Seung’s luxury lineup.
The brand is known here for Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee, who has a passion for cars, owning the Brabus Maybach. Hyundai Motor also teamed up with Brabus to unveil the sportier i20 hatchback during the 2010 Paris motor show.
“Carrying the B logo on the wheels or the Brabus certification for its tire scorching power is a dream and source of pride for car lovers,” Cha said. “There is no limit in Brabus tuning.”
All the components can be replaced in Korea by local technicians, but it will take some time for the highly customized leather interior ― the ultimate luxury in Brabus tuning ― to be offered to Korean customers due to the exclusivity of the order and work process.
“The German head office is also well aware of the dynamism in the Korean market. They are pinning high hopes on future sales,” he said.
Cha is one of only four global importers that handle a group of German luxury tuning brands that usually operate separately. Until he got the first deal with Techart, the Porsche specialist, two years ago, he nurtured his management skills doing his own tuning business for six years.
“I have no doubt about business success. It would be also great if I could play a role in changing people’s negative perceptions toward car tuning overall.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com)