Korea's rebranded motor show staggers to address future mobility

Korea's rebranded motor show staggers to address future mobility

Visitors are gathered around cars being showcased on the second day of the Seoul Mobility Show at KINTEX in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, Nov. 27. Courtesy of Seoul Mobility Show organizing committee

Korea's rebranded motor show staggers to address future mobility

The official website of Seoul Mobility Show / Captured image

By Yi Whan-woo

The country’s biennial motor show appears to face multiple obstacles in promoting global carmakers’ transition to embracing new means of mobility, after making it halfway through its 10-day run that continues until Dec. 5.

Previously called Seoul Motor Show, it was rebranded to Seoul Mobility Show this year to highlight rapidly changing trends in the automotive industry characterized by sustainable and smart technologies, including electric vehicles (EVs), autonomous driving and urban air mobility (UAM).

However, Hyundai Motor and Kia are the only companies ― among the five companies with manufacturing plants in Korea ― that are participating in the motor show.

The three others ― GM Korea, SsangYong and Renault Samsung ― have not joined, which according to industry sources is due to their lack of EV models.

The scene is in contrast to the 2019 show when all five showcased their respective lineups.

It is the only motor show in Korea recognized by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA) but the event only managed to attract seven overseas brands.

The seven are Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Maserati, Mini, Porsche and Isuzu.

The major international brands that are not present this year include GM and Ford from the United States, Volkswagen from Germany and Toyota, Honda and Nissan from Japan.

In particular, the Japanese companies are believed to have skipped the event due to dwindling sales over a consumer boycott here on Japanese products amid worsened bilateral diplomatic ties.

Korea's rebranded motor show staggers to address future mobility

This year’s Seoul Mobility Show has had only one world premiere, of Kia’s Niro HEV, far fewer than the recent Guangzhou Auto Show that had 58 world premieres.

Accordingly, the overall scale of the 2021 event was downsized from two years ago.

The auto show is being held in 26,310 square meters of space at KINTEX exhibition hall in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, with a little more than 100 participating companies.

In 2019, 79,851 square meters of space was needed to host 227 companies, including 15 overseas brands.

Some industry sources attributed this year’s less-than-expected performance to China’s Guangzhou Auto Show, which overlapped with Seoul Mobility Show in its 10-day run through Nov. 28.

The overlap came after Seoul Mobility Show was rescheduled multiple times due to the prolonged pandemic.

More than 700 companies were present at the Guangzhou Auto Show with an exhibition space of 220,000 square meters.

It was noted for the world premieres of 54 models, including the GV70, a mid-sized SUV of Hyundai Motor’s luxury brand Genesis.

Seoul Mobility Show so far only had one world premiere ― Kia’s Niro HEV.

“The overseas brands make a decision on whether to join a motor show based on the market size of the host country,” an official from Hyundai Group, the parent company of Hyundai Motor and Kia, said on condition of anonymity. “And it seems they skipped Seoul Mobility Show considering the car market here is smaller than China’s.”

But even so, some industry sources argue Seoul Mobility Show “should have done better,” noting it is Korea’s flagship motor show while the Guangzhou event is considered a second-tier event in China.

They noted the motor shows in Beijing and Shanghai are much bigger than the Guangzhou motor show.

The Seoul Mobility Show additionally stirred up a dispute over the use of sexualized female imagery in its marketing last week, after one of the participating companies showcased its car with a female model dressed in “a sexual outfit.”

Founded in 1995, the motor show has been embroiled in similar disputes in the past and organizers were asked to create a more welcoming environment for all visitors regardless of gender and age.

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