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Carmakers at Jejudo expo upbeat about electric vehicle sales

BMW i3, Nissan Leaf make Korean debuts; Renault Samsung SM3 Z.E. pledges to retain No. 1 market share

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Published : 2014-03-16 20:45
Updated : 2014-03-16 20:45

JEJUDO ISLAND ― Jejudo Island has long been said to have too many rocks, too much wind and too many women. And now the resort island has another thing to brag about ― electric vehicles.

There are some 371,000 vehicles on Jejudo’s roads. The local government aims to replace all of them with zero-emission, full-electric cars by 2030.

Under the ambitious plan, the island is offering the world’s highest EV subsidies, worth 23 million won ($21,000) per purchase, and has set up a wide network of 497 charging stations ― one for every 3.72 square meters.

Global carmakers are also rushing to Jejudo to benefit from the generous incentives, making the island a test-bed for their EV models not just in Korea but in Asia overall.

Reflecting Jejudo’s turn toward electric mobility, the International Electric Vehicle Expo, the world’s only exhibition solely dedicated to electric cars, kicked off on Saturday on the island.

With the Korean duo ― Hyundai Motor and its affiliate Kia Motors ― keeping a low profile, other foreign-based brands, including BMW, Nissan and Renault, unveiled their EV strategies and sales plans in an upbeat mood.

BMW

BMW Korea offered a sneak peak into the carmaker’s first full-electric compact, the i3, during the Jeju event ahead of its official launch on April 24.

According to the company, three trims, priced at 64 million won to 69 million won, will be available for Korean customers. When asked about the higher-than-expected prices, officials hinted they had added high-end features for the Korean packages.
Visitors check out a BMW i3 compact at the International Electric Vehicle Expo held on Jejudo Island on Saturday. (Yonhap)

They added that they were not considering introducing the optional Range Extender, a small combustion engine that would increase the range up to 300 kilometers, to the Korean market. The i3’s driving range is some 160 kilometers on a single charge.

“The BMW i3 will breathe new life into the nation’s nascent EV market,” said Lee Jae-joon, senior director of marketing services at BMW Korea.

Due to supply constraints globally, the Korean unit of the German carmaker has secured a mere 250 i3 vehicles this year. Of these, some 70 to 80 cars are expected to be sold on Jejudo.

Nissan

Unlike BMW, Japan’s Nissan said that the carmaker sees no supply issue when it comes to introducing its Leaf compact, the world’s best-selling EV, into the Korean market this year.

“We can provide as many cars as Korean customers want,” said Billy Hayes, vice president of the Leaf global team.

The Japanese carmaker will starts its Leaf sales on Jejudo, with the first batch of the vehicles being planned to arrive from its U.S. plant in November.

The Nissan executive added that the company had no immediate plan to launch the Leaf in other cities, citing a lack of government subsidies.

The Leaf’s local pricing, ranging from 50 to 55 million won, was also set about 10 million won higher than previous market forecasts.

Despite tariff benefits following the Korea-U.S. free trade pact, the price was raised due to some newly added Korea-specific features, said the Korean unit.

Renault Samsung

Despite new players coming into the market, Renault Samsung Motors, the Korean unit of France-based Renault Group, showed confidence in retaining its No. 1 market position in the nation’s EV market.

Of the total 783 electric vehicles sold last year, the carmaker’s SM3 Z.E., the Fluence in Europe, made up 453 units, or about 58 percent. On Jejudo alone, the compact claimed 67 percent of the market share.

“Korea is one of the leading markets for EVs even though it is still small and in a transition period,” said Renault Group’s head of electric vehicles Vincent Carre.

He predicted that the nation’s advanced automotive battery business and people’s ready acceptance of new technologies would be spurring EV sales in the coming years.

The Renault’s EV chief also added that the carmaker’s Busan plant will play a bigger role in the production of the SM3 Z.E. for overseas markets, hinting at an increase in investments into the facility.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)

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