Apparently American cars lack of sophistication.
Barring China, a country known for having multiple automakers shielded by the government that build cars of subpar quality and at times, dubiously recognizable designs, most Asian countries aren’t huge fans of American cars. Not too long ago, President Trump decried the Japanese for not buying enough American cars even though Americans buy swaths of Japanese cars. To that, Japan responded, “build better cars.” Well now it’s South Korea’s turn to decry American automakers for lack of attractive options.
According to Reuters, Trump’s recent attempts to renegotiate a trade agreement with South Korea has brought an old question to surface. Namely, why aren’t Koreans buying more American cars when Americans buy so many Korean cars? The answer, according to an anonymous Korean government official, is that the US doesn’t build cars that Koreans want. The official began by beating around the bush, touching on the subject of non-tariff trade barriers. "Addressing non-tariff barriers would not fundamentally raise the competitiveness of U.S. cars,” they said before telling Reuters what they actually wanted to say. "What we really want to say to the United States is: make good cars, make cars that Korean consumers like.”
To be fair, American cars have been getting better and Korean consumers have taken notice. Last year, imports from Detroit’s big three to Korea doubled. Unfortunately, they still make up a measly 1% of the Korean market while imports from other countries, mainly Germany, account for 15% of the overall market. Korean car buyers tend to opt for premium German brands like Mercedes and BMW when purchasing imports, but the market is largely dominated by Hyundai and Kia. The largest problem American automakers have to conquer is perception. US car brands are seen as less sophisticated and not as fuel efficient as their competitors. However, American automakers do have the edge when it comes to electric vehicles.
For that we can thank the Tesla Model S and Chevrolet Bolt. Despite the fact that American automakers complain about trade barriers—such as a regulation that sets a quota allowing for no more than 25,000 cars from each American automaker to be sold in Korea without adhering to Korean safety standards (no American automaker sells enough to get close to that cap)— the only thing that will bolster sales of American cars in Korea is better quality. "Upgrading their vehicles and meet the luxurious taste of consumers is more important than complaining about non-tariff barriers," said Kim Pil-soo, a professor of engineering at Daelim University College near Seoul. Are you listening GM, Ford, and FCA?