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EV competition gets tougher in Korea

With Tesla dominating EV market, other automakers are ready to take on competition

Tesla model 3 (Tesla)
Tesla model 3 (Tesla)
The electric vehicle competition in South Korea is becoming fiercer with more local and foreign automotive brands launching their new electric cars in line with government support and the global environmental trends.

In the first half of this year, 22,267 electric vehicles were sold here, up 23 percent from the same period last year, according to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association, although sales of EV passenger cars among them slightly declined 2.7 percent.

The surge was mainly led by American EV maker Tesla, which sold 7,080 units. It accounts for 43.4 percent of the total sales of electric passenger cars that stood at 16,359 units during the period.

Tesla accounted for 80.4 percent of the total sales of imported electric vehicles in August. Its affordable Model 3 sold 1,248 units, and sport utility vehicle Model X and luxury sedan Model S sold 42 units and 29 units, respectively, that month.

Audi has emerged as a dark horse to check Tesla’s dominance. Audi‘s e-tron has sold 595 units since its launch in July. In August, 177 cars were sold, outpaced only by Tesla’s Model 3.

Peugeot released the subcompact electric car e-208 and SUV e-2008 in July. During the month of August, the e-208 sold 42 units and one e-2008 unit was sold.

Mercedes-Benz sold 44 units of its EQC, the BMW i3s sold 10 units and the Jaguar I-PACE EV400 sold one unit last month. BMW, which is focusing on plug-in hybrids, is considering releasing its pure electric vehicle iX3 next year in Korea. Porsche is also planning to release its first electric vehicle, Taycan, in Korea in November.

Local companies are also gearing up to compete with their foreign rivals.

In the first half, Hyundai Motor’s electric cars saw its overall sales drop 2.9 percent due to a drop in passenger electric car sales despite the explosive growth of electric cargo trucks. Kia Motors also saw its sales drop 54.6 percent, down 23.7 percent from last year.

Hyundai Motor’s electric SUV Kona (Hyundai Motor)
Hyundai Motor’s electric SUV Kona (Hyundai Motor)
However, the two automakers are betting big on EVs next year. Hyundai plans to release medium-sized crossover utility vehicles Ioniq 5 and Genesis JW, which are made with electric vehicle production platforms called E-GMP next year. It will also release an electric vehicle version of Genesis G80.

Kia Motors is also planning to release a new EV tentatively called CV. It is set to release seven electric vehicles by 2027 that will use the E-GMP.

SsangYong Motor will introduce its Korando-based, first fully electric model, codenamed E100, next year.

GM Korea launched the Chevrolet 2020 Bolt EV in June and Renault Samsung Motors released its hatchback electric vehicle ZOE in August. It is yet unknown which EV models the two automakers will release next year.
EVs currently account for 2.3 percent of the total vehicle market in Korea. But the segment is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years with the government’s strong drive to boost the eco-friendly vehicles and the growing public interest in eco-friendly cars.

In July, the Ministry of Environment said it is set to increase the number of electric vehicles in the domestic market to a cumulative 1.13 million units by 2025 from the current 113,000 units. It also plans to expand electric chargers to an accumulated 45,000 units by 2025 from the current 22,000 units.

The ministry said early this year it will increase subsidies for electric and hydrogen vehicles to 94,000 units this year, up 57 percent from 60,000 units last year. Electric cars, including state and local expenses, can receive up to 18.2 million won ($15,630) in subsidies.

Public interest in purchasing electric vehicles is also high.

EV Trend Korea 2020 released the results of its survey on preference for electric vehicles in August. The survey was conducted on 1,586 adults from April 16 to May 5.

According to the survey, 95 percent of the respondents were considering buying electric vehicles, up 1 percent from 94 percent in the previous year. When asked about the timing of the purchase, 56 percent of them said they hoped to buy within the next three years.

When asked about the brand of electric vehicles, Tesla (35 percent, 555 people) topped the list, the same as last year. Hyundai Motor, which ranked second, also received high support with 31 percent (539 people). It was followed by Kia Motors (14 percent), Mercedes-Benz (5 percent), Porsche (4 percent), Audi (4 percent) and Chevrolet (3 percent).

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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