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10/10/2016 Special > Special Important News


Development of the Korean Automobile Industry

A quick timeline from past to present


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It is a known fact that South Korea has gone through a miraculous economic development since the end of the Korean War. There are several factors that have contributed to the success of the Korean economy, but the automobile industry has been the prime sector that led to its current economic status. This is the story of cars manufactured in Korea from the beginning of the 1950s to the modern day.

The First Start

Sibal, the car. Photo courtesy of NamuWiki
Currently, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA), Korea is ranked as the fifth largest automobile industry in the world. Statistically, as reported in 2015, about 4.5 million automobiles have been manufactured in Korea. Leading the industry, there are well-known automobile companies such as Hyundai, Kia, SsangYong, and General Motors Korea that represent the nation. To this day, those companies continue to impact the global automobile industry through the creativity and innovation of smart cars.

However, today’s success in the industry did not take on an easy route. Initially, before cars began to be made in Korea,  vehicle-related operations were merely centered around assembling functioning parts imported from foreign companies. Soon after the increase in the popularity of automobiles in Asia, many businessmen became interested in manufacturing cars in Korea. Then in 1955, Choi Mu-seong, a Korean businessman, and his two brothers created a military jeep-style automobile, made with sheet metal from a junk oil drum can. The first functioning car to be manufactured was called 'Sibal', which means a new start in Korea.

Soon after the introduction of Sibal, other businesses, with the help of Japanese car industries, began to launch its own manufactured automobiles. In 1960, Shinjin Automobiles created the Shinjin Publica under technical support from Toyota, a Japanese automobile company. Then several years after the release of Shinjin Publica, three companies were established that led to the boom of Korean automobile industry- Hyundai, Kia, and SsangYong. They were able to grow steadily with the help of the Korean government. The Automobile Industry Protection Act protected the then-infant automobile industries. Yet, even though all these companies did manufacture on their own, they were merely automotive assembling companies, importing parts from overseas partners like Japan and the United States.  

Hyundai, Leading the Industry

In 1970, Hyundai created the Hyundai Pony, which made the Korean automobile industry known to the world. It was exported to countries in South America, becoming the first Korean-developed car to be exported. Then, the same car entered the United States' automobile market and set a record for selling the most automobiles in its first year of business compared with any other car brand (126,000 vehicles in total). Interestingly, the Hyundai Pony was sold under a different name- as the Excel, in the United States. Hyundai soon rose as the top Korean automobile industry, producing more car models such as the Sonata, a medium-sized sedan, and the Avante.
The Hyundai Pony, or the Excel, was the first exported automobile. Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motors

Hyundai's success was also met with some difficulties regarding their best-selling Excel. In efforts to bring the cost down, the quality and reliability of Hyundai's cars suffered, imprinting a bad image on the company over time. That was followed by a drastic drop in car sales dealerships in the United States. Fortunately, the company made a firm decision to innovate, investing heavily in the quality, design, and research for their cars. This effort led to well-established trust between the company and the buyers. Today, Hyundai stands as the number one automobile company in Korea. According to Forbes, it is ranked nine among the largest automobile companies in the world.

Pride of Korea

Today, automobiles are valuable assets for both convenient transportation and style. Its industry continues to grow, with the slow change from anti-environmental gasoline cars to environmental-friendly cars occurring. Green technology is key for the future economic development of any automobile industry. It is quite amazing, looking back on the past, to see Korean automobile industries excel today in the global market. Not only does this success represent the industry’s achievement, but it also strengthens national pride that motivate people in Korea to aspire for greater advancement. 
Park Min-young
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