In its editorial on Apr 07, the newspaper urges car companies to prepare to face pressure in the electric vehicle market
It takes years or decades for businesses to commercialize futuristic projects. However, after mass production starts, the speed of the products' penetration into ordinary consumers' daily lives often goes beyond estimations.
Korean consumers saw simple mobile phones being rapidly replaced by smartphones, and they are about to enter a big bang in commercial banking thanks to the emergence of fintech and Internet-only banks.
Another drastic change is foreseen in the automobile industry, which U.S. firm Tesla Motors recently shook up by launching an electric vehicle, the Model 3, aimed at the mass market.
About 300,000 consumers worldwide, including Koreans, have put down a deposit of US $1,000 (S$1,346) to preorder the Model 3 after Tesla unveiled the low-priced, but high-performance and well-designed electric family sedan in the US at the end of March.
The situation is totally different from past years, when Tesla and other global competitors unveiled premium EVs with high price tags. The price of the Model 3 is projected to stay below 30 million won (S$34,980) when government subsidies are included.
Tesla is expected to embark on mass sales of EVs in Korea within two years. Its move puts a lot of pressure on local carmakers, such as Hyundai Motor and its sister firm Kia Motors, whose EV technologies and performances still lag behind the U.S. company.
The Tesla Model 3 can run up to 346 km on a single charge, while Hyundai Motor's Ioniq EV, which will go into the mass market later this year, claims a 180-km range.
As the price tags of the two would be similar, Hyundai-Kia faces a scenario in which they cannot hold hegemony over foreign carmakers in the EV market here, at least in the early stage.
It is likened to the situation about five years ago when Samsung Electronics was struggling to catch up with Apple Inc.'s iPhones, due to the local mobile gadget-maker's indifferent approach to smartphone development.
The EV competition in the auto industry goes beyond the global smartphone rivalry between Apple and Samsung. An expo in Jeju Province last month has signaled that the coming battles will involve Japanese and Chinese firms as well as European and U.S. powerhouses.
Nissan Motor launched the Leaf series at the International EV Expo in Jeju. The Leaf S is expected to have a price tag of 26.9 million won when including government subsidies worth 19 million won.
China's EV maker BYD showcased a battery-powered bus, dubbed the K9, announcing its plan to actively tap Korea's city bus market.
For the gasoline and diesel-powered segment, Hyundai Motor saw its domestic market share dip below 40 percent in 2015 for the first time since 2000, amid the rapid sales growth of import cars.
The EV sector may severely undermine Hyundai-Kia's solid foothold if the Korean automotive group fails to catch up with high-end technologies via drastic investment in R&D. Tesla has sent an early warning.
* The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers