US cars a tough sell in S Korea even as Trump targets trade deal

SEOUL: US auto imports from the likes of General Motors and Ford Motor must become more chic, affordable or fuel-efficient to reap the rewards of President Donald Trump’s attempts to renegotiate a trade deal with key ally South Korea, officials and industry experts in Seoul say.
Meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week in Washington, Trump said the United States would do more to address trade imbalances with South Korea and create a level playing ground for US businesses, especially carmakers, in the world’s 11th largest auto market by sales.
While imports from automakers including Ford, Chrysler and GM more than doubled last year largely thanks to free trade deal which took effect in 2012, sales account for just 1 per cent of a market dominated by more affordable models from local giants Hyundai Motor Co and affiliate Kia Motors Corp . Imports make up just 15 per cent of the overall Korean auto market, and are mainly more luxurious models from German automakers BMW and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, which also benefit from a trade deal with the European Union.
“Addressing non-tariff barriers would not fundamentally raise the competitiveness of US cars,” a senior Korean government official said, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. In Korea, US imports are seen as lagging German brands in brand image, sophistication and fuel economy, industry experts say. US imports do have a competitive advantage in electric cars: Tesla Motors’ electric vehicles are seen as both environmentally friendly and trendy, while GM has launched a long-range Bolt EV. — Reuters