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Tesla eyes Korea in Asia push

Carmaker searching for Japan, Korea sales chief

Tesla, the U.S. electric sports car maker, is turning its eyes to Korea in its latest push for the all-important Asian market amid lukewarm Chinese sales.

According to a job posting on its Japanese website on Tuesday, the carmaker is searching for a vice president who will lead its Japanese and Korean sales teams.

“Our Japan-Korea sales vice president will be focused on all of Tesla’s direct sales activities in the Japanese and Korean markets, ensuring the attainment of both short- and long-term sales objectives,” the online posting said.

A Tesla Model S sedan sits at a dealership in Beijing. Bloomberg
A Tesla Model S sedan sits at a dealership in Beijing. Bloomberg

Even though Tesla has continued talks with Korean battery-makers, including Samsung SDI and LG Chem, for possible supply deals, it is the first time that it has hinted at selling cars in Korea.

When Tesla conducted its first investor relations session in Seoul in 2013, an executive made it clear that Korea was not a priority market for its car sales, citing production constraints and an insufficient charging network.

The carmaker opened branches in China, Japan and Hong Kong last year, but not in Korea.

Industry sources, however, pointed out that the market environment, coupled with government subsidies and improved charging network, has changed from two years ago.

“The overall EV market may be in its infancy, but the Tesla cachet would appeal to high-end customers seeking more exclusiveness,” said an industry source, declining to be named.

With the luxury car market soaring here, luxury electric vehicles are gaining renewed attention from premium customers.

For instance, BMW’s first hybrid sports car i8, priced at about 200 million won ($175,000), sold off its first batch of 185 units in a month when the car hit the market in March. The Korean branch is said to have recently ordered an additional 50 i8 cars.

Tesla sold some 3,500 units of its flagship Model S sedan, priced at about $120,000, in China last year.

“Considering its Chinese sales are weaker than expected and that the recent meltdown in the stock market there would affect consumption negatively, it is the right direction for Tesla to turn its eyes to Korea where supercars are hot sellers,” said another source.

According to industry data, sales of luxury cars priced at 100 to 150 million won were 9,360 vehicles last year, while the figure for those priced over 150 million won was 5,616 vehicles, almost double of a year ago.

By Lee Ji-yoon (