Gas-guzzling SUVs, eco-friendly electric cars and the odd brave attempt to marry the selling points of both are taking center stage at the biennial Seoul Motor Show.
Carmakers including Hyundai, Toyota, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen and Ford are taking part in the 10-day event, with nine models making their global debut as Seoul seeks to catch up with better-known Asian auto shows in Tokyo and Beijing.
Sports utility vehicles (SUVs), including Toyota’s fourth-generation RAV4, are still the fore, despite their heavy frames and high fuel consumption — long seen as challenges to luring drivers in Asia’s congested cities.
French carmaker Renault gave an Asian debut to its new QM3 crossover — a downsized mix of SUV and passenger car — at an elaborate celebration event.
The colorful orange vehicle, first unveiled at the recent Geneva Motor Show, will hit the market in the second half of this year, said Francois Provost, chief executive of Renault’s South Korean unit.
Renault Samsung Motors is hoping the model will mark a “new beginning” for the firm, which has struggled with sagging sales in recent years, Provost said.
The company also flagged plans to start production of its electric sedan, SM3 Z.E., at its plant in the southern city of Busan this year.
The SM3 Z.E. covers about 120km on a single charge with a top speed of 135kph.
US automaker General Motors gave an Asian premier to the all-electric version of its Chevrolet Spark, heralding it as a “new benchmark” for urban electric vehicles.
Production of the electrically-powered hatchback began at the firm’s plant in Changwon, South Korea, earlier last month.
The car’s 20 kilowatt hours lithium-ion battery can be recharged to 80 percent of its capacity in 20 minutes, and its electric motor is capable of powering the car from 0 to 100kph in about 9 seconds.
South Korea’s top carmaker, Hyundai Motor, showed off its hydro fuel-cell Tucson SUV model which started production in February at its plant in the southern city of Ulsan.
The car, which generates electricity using hydrogen and oxygen from the air, can travel much longer distances than battery-powered vehicles.
“We have achieved the feat of commercial production of hydrogen fuel cell cars for the first time in the world, ahead of nations like Germany, Japan and the US,” Hyundai Motor CEO Kim Choong-ho said.
Hyundai, which plans to sell 1,000 units globally by 2015, claims it is at least two years ahead of competitors like Honda or Toyota, who are developing their own hydro fuel-cell cars.
Infiniti, the luxury brand of Nissan, gave pride of place to its new electric sedan, LE Concept, best known for its wireless battery recharging system.
Although leading brands are developing electric models, the market for them still faces challenges, one expert said.
“Hybrid cars have firmly established themselves in the market, but electric cars still have a long, long way to go,” Kim Pil-su, an auto expert at South Korea’s Daelim University, told a forum on the sidelines of the auto show.
A lack of infrastructure, including recharging stations, high prices and “misguided” marketing campaigns have resulted in the electric car industry losing its initial momentum, he said.
“To make electric cars more appealing to consumers it’s better to first market them as a second car for downtown driving or short-distance trips, instead of a car to entirely replace gas-fueled cars,” Kim said.