It used to be that foreign cars were a very rare sight on the streets of Seoul, Korea, but according to the International Herald Tribune, that's changing, as Koreans look to foreign marques for added cachet. High tariffs on imported cars and a patriotic sense of duty had created an environment in which most Seoul residents drove domestically-produced automobiles. As the IHT reports now, a number of economic factors (including a new trade agreement with the US, for example) and a willingness to look beyond purely patriotic motives have ushered in a new era in which foreign cars -- German, American, Japanese, and others -- are being purchased because they're different and are viewed as status symbols.

They still only account for only 5% of the total market, meaning there's plenty of upside for carmakers as more citizens look past their own country's offerings when shopping for new vehicles. The top-selling import right now happens to be the Honda CR-V, whose sales numbers jumped 150% in the first six months of 2007. According to the IHT, foreign-market cars are also having an effect in the premium segment, where they're taking sales (and profits) away from domestic luxury offerings. At the Seoul Motor Show (above) this past April, just about every foreign marque was present and accounted for, showing that the automakers don't take Korea lightly at all, even if they only own a tiny share of the overall market at this time. Now we know why. You can check out the IHT piece in its entirety here.

[Source: International Herald Tribune]

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