The Korea Herald


[Weekender] Tuning industry suffers from negative perception

By (공용)코리아헤럴드

Published : March 11, 2016 - 20:48

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In almost every episode of U.S. television sitcom hit “Home Improvement” in the 1990s, viewers were able to see its main star Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor played by stand-up comedian Tim Allen building and tuning a classic hot rod in his garage with his eldest son.

They would chat, giggle and joke around, telling stories to one another while tending to their dream hot rod.

Even in movies like “The Fast and the Furious” about a band of criminal street racers, its main character Dominic Toretto’s favorite pastime was when he was in his garage with his father tuning up the Dodge Charger.

(123RF) (123RF)

The best part about automobiles for him is building, tuning and customizing fast cars with his family and friends in his garage.

“Like in the movies and TV shows, automobile tuning is seen as a friendly or family ritual especially in the U.S. where almost anyone with the skills and interest can get parts and tune up their cars on their own in their garages,” said an industry source, who asked not to be identified.

“Here in Korea, the problem about tuning is that it is viewed as illegal or a bad thing.”

Korea’s negative perception toward auto tuning is one of the serious problems hindering the creation of an automotive aftermarket, in addition to excessive regulations.

In a survey of 257 consumers by the Korea Transportation Safety Authority in 2014, 163 saw tuning as illegal, and 43 as unsafe.

This is something the incumbent administration seeks to tackle considering that Korea is the world’s fifth biggest automobile market, but its tuning industry is miniscule with an estimated market value at around 500 billion won ($415 million), or about 1.6 percent of the 30 trillion won auto market.

The U.S., the world’s second biggest auto market, has the biggest tuning market valued at around 35 trillion won, followed by Germany’s 23 trillion; China’s 17 trillion won; and Japan’s 14 trillion won, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

The Korean tuning market mostly consists of small shops with size equivalent to mom-and-pop grocery stores. Observers say that this is also due to the lack of diversity in the country’s auto culture where roads are filled with mostly either Hyundai or Kia brands.

Strict regulations prohibiting upgrades of engine units in the automotive aftermarket are slowing down the tuning industry, and this goes against not only Korea’s international automotive presence but also does not fall in line with the age of mass customization.

“There is a need to readjust policies and regulations on auto aftermarket where tuning mostly takes place and the ‘auto culture or community’ is created,” said Lee Tong-won, head of an automobile tuning research center at Ajou Motor College in Boryeong-si, South Chungcheong Province.

The government has been holding a series of public forums to gather industry and academic opinions in line with efforts to boost the tuning industry to reach 2.7 trillion won in market value and create 20,000 jobs through deregulations by 2017.

By Park Hyong-ki (