2013 Toyota Camry Claims Korea Car Of The Year in Huge Upset

Posted by Stephen On Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

For the first time ever, a non-Korean-made vehicle has claimed Korea’s Car Of The Year Award. Which vehicle is the usurper? The 2013 Toyota Camry sedan, of course, which launched just a year ago in the newly opened South Korean market. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge surprise since the Toyota Camry has dominated just about every other market. You may think, why should Korea be any different?

How about because Korean and Japanese automakers have had a fierce rivalry extending decades beyond the first KCOTY award in 2010? (Not to mention … the War as well!)

With that in mind, it makes sense that Korean automakers would be outraged that a Japanese car was able to take the traditionally patriotic Korea Car Of The Year Award. Since 2010, the KCOTY has gone to Hyundai twice and Kia once, and now it goes to Toyota. Blasphemy!

More seriously, the KCOTY Award is good news for more than just the massive Japanese automaker. After all, most of us don’t need the Koreans to tell us that the 2013 Toyota Camry sedan is one of the best automobiles ever made. This award is bigger than that – it marks a shift in the Korean market for all international manufacturers. American, European and Japanese car makers should all be happy for Toyota’s win.

2013 Toyota Camry

Consider that according to The Detroit News, 99% of vehicles sold in Korea were locally made even as recently as the early 2000s. In fact I can remember traveling in Korea in the mid 90s and seeing nothing but Korean cars, often built on the plans of superseded GM models. In a short 10 year time period, new trade regulations have made South Korea much friendlier to foreign manufacturers. American manufacturers in particular have enjoyed the benefits of a free trade pact; same for Japanese brands who have factories in America, like Toyota. In fact, Toyota’s American presence was pivotal in introducing the Camry to Korea thanks to a highly favorable won-dollar exchange rate, compared to an unfavorable rate for the yen.

As you might expect, Korean automakers were none too pleased by the Korea Automobile Journalist Association’s choice of the Toyota Camry. In fact, Hyundai apparently got a tip-off that Toyota would win and decided to boycott the event. An anonymous Hyundai executive was reported saying, “We are perplexed. It would have been a lot better if a Korean brand won the top prize.” A perfect example of an unbiased opinion, I’m sure.

Now that it’s clear international brands can be competitive in the Korean market, both Hyundai and Kia have already reduced prices on many of their most popular vehicles. They will devote more attention to domestic marketing from here on out.

It’s important to note that in 2012 the Camry was actually the SECOND best-selling vehicle in South Korea, lagging just behind the BMW 520d. So, it wasn’t sales alone that determined the prize. Koreans just love their new Camry’s more than any other car.

You do have to feel a little bad for these Korean automakers, though. They lived the dream for so long, able to focus exclusively on international markets while their cars virtually sold themselves in Korea. Now they have to compete on their home-turf, just like the rest of us. It will certainly be interesting to see which vehicle takes the 2013 Korea Car Of The Year Award. Fingers crossed that it’s another Japanese car.

Source: Detroit News

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