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Toyota's Despicable Contempt for Korean Consumers

The Koreans are thrilled silly about the Toyota quality problems. They're trying not to gloat but their glee is barely concealed, especially as Hyundai and Kia auto sales increase so rapidly in the US. But this isn't really what my post is about today and I'm going to depart a bit from my normally Korea-friendly perspective.

3-3-2010 8-52-44 PM In an editorial in the Jungang Daily yesterday (유교가 '아시아의 세기' 감당할까), columnist Hwan-Yeong Kim (in photo at left) talked about the way Toyota is apologizing for their quality problems. Apparently the president of Toyota showed up at a press conference with American journalists and only bowed 70-degrees when he apologized the first time. He then had to come back and do it again at 90-degrees. But when he got to China, he bowed 90-degrees the first time. And it seems he hasn't bothered to show up in Korea to apologize at all.

So Mr. Kim is irked that Japan's paying so much attention to keeping the Chinese happy but is ignoring the Koreans. He backs this up by pointing out that when Toyota started selling their Lexus models in Korea, they sold at higher prices here than anywhere else in the world and that this showed contempt for the Korean consumer.

But just today, the Jungang Daily ran another article with this title: "Why do Automobiles for Export Have Safety Devices but the Ones for Domestic Consumption Do Not?" (수출 차엔 기본인 안전장치, 내수 차엔 없다?). Apparently the Korean car makers are willing to outfit their cars with less value for Korean consumers than they are in overseas markets. 

Or how about this? When Hyundai first sold its Genesis model in the US, the prices were so much lower there than in Korea, people were buying the car in the US, importing it back to Korea and still saving money. In early 2008, we bought our Kia Pride (called a "Kia Rio" in the US) in Korea for much more than it would have cost back home.

My point, of course, is to ask whether anybody could blame Toyota for selling their cars expensively in Korea when the Korean car makers themselves are doing the same thing. Rather than moan and groan about being slighted by the Japanese, perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask what can be done to create a more consumer-friendly car market in Korea.

And BTW, I sure hope the Korean makers are prepared for the day that the US media and Congress, goaded on by the US automakers, decide to turn some quality issues into another "perfect storm" of a media circus.

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