The Korean automobile industry is currently the fifth largest in the world in terms of production volume and the sixth largest in terms of export volume. While its initial operations were merely the assembling of parts imported from Japan and the United States, Korea is today among the most advanced automobile-producing countries in the world. Annual domestic output exceeded one million units in 1988. In the 1990s, the industry manufactured numerous in-house models, demonstrating not only its capabilities in terms of design, performance, and technology, but also signalling its coming of age.

Early beginnings[]

Korea's automobile history began in August 1955, when Choi Mu-seong, a Korean auto mechanic, and three of his brothers, mounted an engine on a modified US Army Jeep to manufacture its first car, called the "Sibal".

In 1960, Sinjin Automobiles launched Sinjin Publica under a technical licensing agreement with Toyota. In order to develop the automobile industry, the Korean government announced the "Automobile Industry Promotion Policy" in 1962, and The Automobile Industry Protection Act to protect the infant industry. Foreign automakers were barred from operating in Korea, except in joint ventures with local business entities. The government's efforts led to companies that were established in other businesses entering the industry, and the formation of new startups. Three companies were established in 1962:

  • Kyeongseong Precision Industry, which changed its name to "Kia Industry", and started assembling cars in cooperation with Mazda in 1964;
  • Ha Dong-hwan Automobile Industry Co. (the predecessor of SsangYong Motor Company); and
  • Saenara Automobile, established with the technical cooperation of Nissan Motor Co.; it was the first automaker in Korea that was equipped with modern assembly facilities.

The Asia Motors Company was established in 1965, and the Hyundai Motor Company in 1968 with the technical cooperation of the Ford Motor Company.

However, all these companies were then merely automotive assemblers, importing parts from overseas partners.


In 1970, Toyota began to show hesitation in continuing its relationship with Sinjin Automobiles. After Toyota's withdrawal in 1972, Shinjin entered into a joint venture with General Motors and formed General Motors Korea, which was later renamed Saehan Motors in 1976.

The Hyundai Pony, the first Korean-developed automobile, was built in 1975. Hyundai Motors accomplished this by engaging George Henry Turnbull of British Leyland Motor Corporation as vice-president. The final result was a collaborative effort, comprising:

  • design from Italdesign;
  • transmission and engine from Mitsubishi;
  • technology transfer (bodies) from Perkinson;
  • molding from Ogihara Mold Company;
  • machine press from France; and
  • Funds from Barclays Bank and France Suez.

Hyundai chalked up another first when it exported the Pony to the Republic of Ecuador in 1976, making it the first Korean-developed car to be exported.

In 1982, the Daewoo Group gained control of Saehan Motors, and changed its name to Daewoo Motors in 1983. However, the Korean automobile industry suffered greatly from the 1979 energy crisis, and the consequent local recession. The government took action to resolve this difficult situation in 1982 by implementing the "Automobile Industry Rationalization Policy", the objective of which was to prevent excessive competition between the four major domestic automakers: Hyundai Motors, Kia Industry, General Motors Korea, and Asia Motors. Additionally, the government postponed its import liberalization of automobiles.

Sinjin Automobiles changed its name to Geohwa Co. in 1981, and was taken over by Dong-A Motor Co. in 1985. In 1986, the company was renamed the SsangYong Motor Company.

While localization of auto parts was the major concern during the 1970s, developing mass production system for the export-oriented industry became the issue during 1980s. Hyundai entered the United States market in 1986 with the Excel (as the Pony was known there), and set a record for selling the most automobiles in its first year of business in the United States compared with any other car brand — 126,000 vehicles. Fortune magazine nominated the Excel for the "Best Product 10" award, largely because of its low price. With this initial success in the export market, the company began in 1989 to produce models, designed in-house and manufactured with its own technology, starting with the Sonata, a medium-sized sedan. The Sonata, nevertheless, still featured many Mitsubishi designs and parts.

1990s and beyond[]

Hyundai's cumulative exports to the U.S. exceeded one million in 1990. In 1992 its ScoupeTurbo won at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Rally, and in 1993 its Elantra was selected as the "Best Car of 1993" in Australia. Hyundai's Accent earned Canadian Best Buy Award in 1995, and its Avante also won the Asia-Pacific Rally that year. Yet, amidst all the successes, trouble was brewing for Hyundai.

The Excel, although initially well received, gave Hyundai a bad image, as over time its faults became apparent. Also, in efforts to bring the costs down, its quality and reliability suffered. As time caught up with the poor reputation of Hyundai in the United States, sales dropped drastically, and car dealerships started abandoning their franchises.

Rather than drop out of the world's largest automotive market, Hyundai began investing heavily in the quality, design, manufacturing, and long-term research of its vehicles in 1998, and added a ten-year or 100,000 mile warranty to its vehicles in the United States. This effort paid dividends for Hyundai, and in 2004 the company tied with Honda for initial brand quality, second in the industry behind Toyota, in a survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates.

Towards the end of the 20th century, however, the industry began to face tremendous pressures at home, with the domestic market growing at under five percent, and greater competition, both locally and abroad. With energy waste, air pollution, and traffic congestion becoming more chronic, the Korean government has imposed the heaviest vehicle excise duty on automobiles and gasoline among the major automobile-producing countries. In 1985, the number of vehicles registered in Korea was one million, but by 1995 the total had increased to eight million. In response to these pressures, Korean automakers have become more aggressive in terms of pricing and quality, and begun developing larger cars, and broadening their product ranges to meet diverse customer preferences.

Internal pressures at home have also forced Korean automobile manufacturers to venture aggressively into international markets. In the early 1990s, Daewoo Motors also began to expand heavily throughout the world. Until 1996, its cars were all based on General Motors' models. After the Asian financial crisis that started in 1997, it took over the troubled SUV specialist, SsangYong, in 1998, but ran into financial trouble in 1999.

Asia Motors was completely merged with Kia Motors Company (the new name for Kia Industry, changed in 1990) in 1999. Kia Motors had financial trouble in 1997, and helped push South Korea into the Asian financial crisis. Kia was subsequently acquired by Hyundai Motors in 1998.

Samsung's entry into the automobile industry was also ill-fated. Established in 1994, Samsung Motors started selling cars in 1998, just when South Korea was hit by the Asian financial crisis. Faced with financial difficulties, Samsung sold a seventy percent stake in the company to Renault in September 2000, and the company was renamed Renault Samsung Motors.

The purchase of Daewoo Motors by General Motors Corporation in 2002, and Hyundai's completion of a one billion dollar assembly plant in Alabama in 2005, are two major developments that will further drive the Korean automobile industry to focus on North America, its largest export market. The move to the U.S. makes Hyundai the sixth Asian automaker to build a U.S. factory, the third foreign maker to pick Alabama, and the sixth automaker to locate in the Southeastern United States since 1990. Now opening in 2009 is another U.S. factory that will be a twin to the Alabama factory. It is located in West Point, Ga and will build KIA cars.


1940s & 1950s[]

  • 1944: Kyeongseong Precision Industry founded (precursor of Kia Motor Company).
  • 1955: Choi Mu-seong, a Korean mechanic and three of his brothers mounted an engine on a modified US Army Jeep to manufacture the historic model, called "Sibal";
    • Sinjin Automobiles founded (precursor of Daewoo Motor);
    • Hyundai Civil Works Company founded by Chung Ju-yung;
    • Ha Dong-hwan Car Assembly Shop founded.


  • 1960: Sinjin Automobiles launched Sinjin Publica under Toyota licensing.
  • 1961: Government established "Industrial Standardization Act" and announced "Transportation Business Act and Road Traffic Act".
  • 1962: Government established "5-Year Automobile Industry Plan", and announced the "Automobile Industry Protection Act";
    • Saenara Automobiles founded, in technical cooperation with Nissan Motor Co.;
    • Ha Dong-hwan Automobile Industry Co. founded;
    • Kyeongseong Precision Industry changed its name to Kia Industry.
  • 1963: Sinjin Crown, and Sinsungho launched.
  • 1964: Government announced the "Automobile Industry Comprehensive Promotion Plan";
    • Kia Industry produced Mazda models under licensing;
    • Kia T-600 Triple Truck launched.
  • 1965: Government announced "3-Year Automobile Localization Plan", with a goal to achieve 90% local content by 1967;
    • Asia Motors Co. established;
    • Sinjin Automobiles took over Saenara Automobiles.
  • 1966: Sinjin Corona, Sinjin Truck, and Sinjin Ace launched.
  • 1967: Government announced the "Automobile Plant Permission Standards".
  • 1968: Hyundai Motor Co. founded, and established licensing agreement with Ford Motor Company;
    • Hyundai Cortina, Hyundai Ford 20M, Hyundai Ford D-series, and Hyundai Ford DK-Series launched.
  • 1969: Government announced "Basic Plan for Automobile Industry Promotion".


  • 1970: Sinjin New Crown, Hyundai 0303 Benz bus, Kia Titan, and Kia Boxer launched;
    • Toyota showed hesitation in continuing with Sinjin Automobiles.
  • 1972: Sinjin Automobiles joint-ventured with General Motors to form GM Korea, and launched Chevrolet 1700, based on Holden Torana model;
    • Kia Brisa (K303) launched, based on Mazda Familia model;
    • Kia KB truck launched, based on Hino truck model;
    • Sinjin Automobiles launched Jeep under licensing from American Motors;
    • Daewoo BF101 truck, and Daewoo BV101 bus launched, based on Isuzu truck model.
  • 1973: Kyeongbu Highway opened;
    • Hyundai New Cortina launched.
  • 1974: Government set goal of half a million vehicles to be built annually, with the announcement of the "Automobile Industry Promotion Plan";
    • Sinjin Automobiles joint-ventured with American Motors on 50-50 basis to form Sinjin Jeep Company;
    • GM Korea Rekord, based on Opel Rekord, launched.
  • 1975: Government established "Systematization Promotion Act" for medium and small enterprises in automobile industry;
    • Hyundai Motor Co. established its own research institute, and produced Hyundai Pony, the first Korean-developed car, designed by ItalDesign and based on Mitsubishi technology;
    • GM Korea's Camina launched, based on Holden Torana.
  • 1976: Hyundai Motor made Korean history by exporting the "Pony" to the Republic of Ecuador;
    • Kia Industry took over Asia Motors Co.;
    • GM Korea changed its name to Saehan Automobiles, and produced Saehan Gemini (based on Opel Kadett and Isuzu Gemini models), and Saehan Elf (based on Isuzu Elf);
    • Hyundai truck launched, based on a Mitsubishi Fuso model; Hyundai HD1000, and Hyundai Vison also launched.
  • 1977: Ha Dong-hwan Automobiles changed its name to Dong-A-Motors.
  • 1978: Hyundai Ford Cortina Mark IV, Hyundai Ford Cortina Mark V, and Hyundai Ford Granada launched;
    • Saehan Rekord and Saehan Royale Salon, both based on Opel Rekord, also launched.
  • 1979: Shinjin Jeep Motor Co. changed its name to Shinjin Motor Company as the company became a domestic corporation;
    • Kia Bongo truck launched.


  • 1980: Government announced integration of automobile industry.
  • 1981: Sinjin Automobiles changed its company name to Geohwa Company.
  • 1982: Hyundai Pony II and Hyundai FB buses, Kia Bongo van launched.
  • 1983: Saehan Automobiles changed its name to Daewoo Motor, with partner General Motors;
    • Daewoo Royale series launched;
    • Hyundai Stellar launched;
    • Hyundai Motors established Hyundai Auto Canada Inc.;
    • Geohwa's Korando launched.
  • 1984: Hyundai Pony-Excel, and Hyundai Presto launched;
    • Asia Combi launched.
  • 1985: Ministry of Commerce and Industry postponed import liberalization of automobiles;
    • Dong-A Motor Co. took over Geohwa Co.;
    • Kia Besta launched;
    • Number of vehicles registered in South Korea exceeded one million.
  • 1986: Government designated automobile industry for rationalization, based on the "Industry Development Act";
    • Government revised the "Road Transportation & Vehicle Act, and other related regulations;
    • Dong-A Motor Co. took over Geohwa Co. and renamed it Ssangyong Motor Co.;
    • Hyundai Excel, and Hyundai Presto AMX Model, launched and exported to USA;
    • Hyundai Excel nominated by Fortune magazine for the "Best Product 10" award;
    • Daewoo Le Mans, based on Opel Kadett, launched.
  • 1987: Government cancelled "Automobile Industry Rationalization Plan";
    • Government introduced import liberalization of commercial vehicles between 1,000 and 2,000 c.c.;
    • Transportation Ministry revised "Enforcement Decree of the Automobile Management Act";
    • Kia Pride, Kia Concord, Asia Topic, and Kia Jumbo Titan launched;
    • Hyundai Truck (new model), Hyundai Grace, Hyundai Porter, and Hyundai Mighty launched, based on Mitsubishi Delica, Mitsubishi Canter, and Fuso model.
  • 1988: Annual domestic automobile production volume exceeded one million units;
    • Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association (KAMA) established;
    • Hyundai named "Official Car" in Seoul Olympic;
    • Hyundai Chorus and Hyundai Sonata (new model) launched;
    • SsangYong Korando family launched.
  • 1989: Hyundai Motor completed construction of its plant in Bromont, Canada;
    • Hyundai Sonata launched, using in-house design, but still featuring Mitsubishi technology;
    • 3Gen from Hyundai Excel, Hyundai Porter 1.25 ton launced;
    • Kia Capital and Kia Wide-Bongo launched, along with Kia Motors's import model, Mercury Sable.


  • 1990: Hyundai's cumulative exports to the U.S. surpassed 1 million in 1990;
  • 1991: Hyundai Sonata (new model) launched;
  • 1992: Hyundai Scoupe (new model) launched; ScoupeTurbo won at the "Pikes Peak Hill Climb Rally";
  • 1993: Hyundai Elantra (new model launched), and was selected "Best Car of 1993" in Australia;
    • Kia named "Official Car" for Daejeon Expo.
  • 1994: Samsung Motors founded.
  • 1995: Number of vehicles registered in South Korea exceeded eight million;
    • Hyundai's Accent earned "Canadian Best Buy Award", and also won the "Asia-Pacific" Rally;
    • First Seoul International Motor Show.
  • 1997: Kia Motors went into financial trouble, and helped push South Korea into the Asian financial crisis.
  • 1998: Hyundai began investing heavily in quality, design, manufacturing, and long-term research, and added a 10-year or 100,000 mile warranty to its vehicles in the United States;
    • Samsung Motors started selling cars;
    • 51% of Kia Motors acquired by Hyundai Motor;
    • Daewoo Motors took over the troubled SUV specialist, SsangYong
  • 1999: Asia Motors completely merged with Kia Motors Company.


  • 2000: Samsung sold a 70% stake in Samsung Motors to Renault, and the company was renamed Renault Samsung Motors.
    • Daewoo Motors divests of SsangYong Motor Company
  • 2002: Major assets of Daewoo Motors acquired by General Motors. The new company was named GM Daewoo.
  • 2004: Hyundai tied with Honda for initial brand quality, second in the industry behind Toyota, in a survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates.
  • 2005: Hyundai completed construction of its $1 billion assembly plant in Montgomery, Alabama;
    • GM Daewoo vehicles were exported under various GM brands (and Suzuki), but mostly as Chevrolets

List of Korean automobiles[]

Hyundai Motor Company[]

Hyundai passenger cars[]

Hyundai SUVs and vans[]

Hyundai commercial vehicles[]

  • Hyundai Vison & 3ton Truck
  • Hyundai 5ton Truck
  • Hyundai Mighty
  • Hyundai Mighty II
  • Hyundai e-Mighty
  • Hyundai Chorus
  • Hyundai County & e-County
  • Hyundai 4.5/5-ton truck
  • Hyundai Truck (8/25-ton truck)
  • Hyundai Super Truck 5ton/4.5ton(HD Series)
  • Hyundai Super Truck(HD Series)
  • Hyundai Aero Town
  • Hyundai Aero City
  • Hyundai Super Aero City
  • Hyundai Aero
  • Hyundai HD160
  • Hyundai HD170
  • Hyundai RB
  • Hyundai FB

Kia Motor Company[]

Kia passenger cars[]

Kia Motors Group:

  • Avella
  • Brisa
  • Capital
  • Concord
  • Potentia
  • Sephia/Mentor
  • Pride

Hyundai Motor Group:

  • Visto
  • Amanti/Opirus
  • Kia cee'd
  • Clarus/Credos
  • Clarus/Credos II
  • Elan/Vigato/Kia Roadster
  • Enterprise
  • Magentis/Optima
  • Morning/Picanto
  • Magentis/Optima/Optima-Regal
  • Potentia(New)
  • Rio/Pride
  • Rio(Cinco/RX-V)
  • Rio SF/Rio
  • Sephia/Mentor(New)
  • Sephia/Spectra/Shuma
  • Spectra
  • Spectra/Cerato

Kia SUVs and vans[]

Kia Motors Group:

  • Sportage
  • Bongo
  • Besta
  • Wide-Bongo
  • Power-Bongo
  • Topic
  • Towner
  • Rocsta
  • Rocsta R2
  • Ceres

Hyundai Motor Group:

  • Bongo-Frontier/K Series
  • Bongo-Frontier/K Series(New)
  • Carens
  • Carens II/Carens
  • Carnival
  • Sedona/Carnival/Carnival II
  • Sedona/Carnival/Grand-Carnival    
  • Sorento
  • Sportage(CRDI/V6)
  • Pregio
  • Towner(New)
  • Retona
  • Joice/Carstar
  • Pregio/Bongo III
  • K Series/Bongo III

Kia commercial vehicles[]

Kia Motors Group:

  • Kia KB
  • Kia Rhino/Wide-Boxer
  • Kia Trade
  • Kia Boxer
  • Kia AM Truck
  • Kia AM Bus
  • Kia Granbird(Asia Motors)     
  • Kia Titan
  • Kia Super-Titan
  • Kia Jumbo-Titan
  • Kia Granto
  • Kia Combi
  • Kia Cosmos

Hyundai Motor Group:

  • Kia Pamax
  • Kia Rhino(New)
  • Kia Granbird
  • Kia Power-Combi
  • Kia New Cosmos
  • Kia Frontier(1.4ton/2.5ton)

GM Daewoo[]

GM Daewoo passenger cars[]

GM Daewoo commercial vehicles[]

SsangYong Motor Company[]

SsangYong Passenger Cars[]

SsangYong Commercial Vehicles[]

Renault Samsung Vehicles[]

See also[]

External links[]