The nation’s car industry, long dominated by large domestic carmakers like Hyundai and Kia, is no exception.
The latest consumer demand is boosting the sales of foreign cars in Korea. Industry watchers forecast the market share of foreign carmakers in the Korean automotive market will hit a record high of 20 percent by the year-end.
It has also created a demand for businesses that rebuild old cars, a niche market for those who have longed for a personalized car that reflects their character.
“The market tends to grow when people consider cars as a means of self-expression. This new tribe of consumers spends money to reflect their own values,” said Henie Kim, the founder of Mohenic Garages, the nation’s first car restorer.
Historically, tastes of individuals have transformed when a country’s gross domestic product per capita exceeds $30,000 and the Korean economy is nearing that mark.
|Henie Kim, founder of Mohenic Garages|
Kim opened Mohenic Garages, a registered car body shop in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, in 2013 to disassemble old Hyundai Galloper SUVs of more than 20 years and rebuild them with a modern look and state-of-the-art functions.
Galloper vehicles, whose production ended in 2003, look similar to pre-1991 Mitsubishi Pajeros, except for their rectangular head lights.
“The authentic box-type design of Galloper SUVs, when rebuilt, still appeals to those who look for an off-road four-wheel drive car beyond mass-produced SUVs,” Kim said.
Customers of Mohenic Garages are willing to spend more than 30 million won ($27,508) to restore their dream Gallopers, whose market value is only about 1.5 million won.
“Most of them are in their late 30s and 40s and have a professional job in creative sectors,” he said.
|The Hyundai Galloper rebuilding process (courtesy by Mohenic Garages)|
Mohenic’s customer base is sociologically labelled as the “generation X,’’ aged between 35 and 50. Kids of baby boomers tend to pick diversity and self-fulfillment of their core values as they have lived in economic abundance and experienced both the analog and digital eras.
Dreaming of creating handmade car brand
The founder of Mohenic belongs to the same age group as his key clients and has consistently sought creativity as his core value at work for the past two decades since his graduation from Hongik University, the nation’s top fine arts college, in the mid-1990s.
“I have been obsessed with creative work in various sectors that no one has entered before,’’ Kim said.
Kim, who majored in woodworking and furniture design at college, created The Design, a furniture-making start-up, after graduation. His first venture, introducing high-end European-style furniture products that were rare in the market, saw great success.
Despite the initial business success, however, he had to close his first creative project in mid-2000, pressed by cheap Chinese furniture products.
He then debuted as a professional photographer and expanded his domain into the fashion industry, using his fashion photo works.
“Creative works are similar in that they express and execute an idea as beautifully as possible. I had consistent and common interest working in different sectors, creating and building a brand,” Kim said.
His pioneering spirit in the creative world led him to the car industry in 2012 when he bought a used Hyundai Galloper SUV for camping and tried to rebuild it with his own style.
“While working with a car body shop for the project, I wrote diaries on the process and progress in rebuilding my first camping car on my blog and a growing number of visitors asked me to rebuild their Galloper vehicles,” he said.
Witnessing a growing demand for restoring Galloper SUVs, he created Mohenic Garages in 2013 to tap the automotive restoration sector.
“Classic car restoration or handmade car manufacturing are considered as a creative area rather than the mechanic sector,” he said.
For instance, U.S.-based Singer Vehicle Design, the world famous restorer of existing Posche cars, was created by British rock singer Rob Dickinson, he added.
His extensive experience helped him to develop unique and slick designs of rebuilt Galloper by Mohenic. As a professional furniture designer, he created an authentic wood-based interior design. He takes photos of his work for promotional activities.
His enthusiasm for creativity led him to create three models of rebuilt Galloper under the brand name of Mohenic G-original, flagship and premium.
“We will keep upgrading the model in an effort to nurture our car brand Mohenic G,” Kim said. The company debuted the second-generation Mohenic G early this year.
“My ultimate goal is to debut a handmade car brand in Korea and I will harness the creative capability for this goal, no matter what it takes,” he said, calling on the government and mass-market carmakers to turn their attention to the new budding demand in the car industry ― which will add diversity to the nation’s car culture and boost the development of the industry.
When it comes to handmade cars in Korea, Oullim Motors crafted and introduced Spirra, a high-performing sports car, in 2011, but the project failed to draw market attention.
By Seo Jee-yeon (firstname.lastname@example.org)