SEOUL - The three vehicles displayed on the Opel stand at the Seoul show summed up the marketing plans of the US automakers in Korea. Or their lack of plans.
The three vehicles were a Chevrolet Astro van, a Chevrolet Cavalier and a Chevrolet Venture minivan. GM has not even decided whether to sell the last two cars in Korea. Worse still: the Opel stand had no Opel vehicles.
The display suggested GM was not enthusiastic about Korea.
Neither GM nor Ford have ambitious new-model schedules in the market. And despite a stream of new models in the US, Chrysler will launch only one vehicle in Korea this year.
Two big problems explain their lack of interest in Korea.
First, the country has made no significant moves to open its auto market to imports. Second, the economy is slowing down.
'Ford would like to see greater progress in Korea toward opening the market to global manufacturers,' said Mike Auld, Ford Motor Co. director and general manager of worldwide direct market operations. 'All told, we feel that we've done well as an importer, considering that we are working within a restricted environment.'
An informal survey of several US and German importers found that they expected imports to account for as little as 2 percent - and no more than 6 percent - of the Korean passenger-car market by 2000. Last year it was less than 1 percent.
Shortly before the Seoul show, General Motors Korea discovered that two of the three Opel models it had planned to display would require extensive re-engineering and documentation before they could go on sale in Korea.
Sales would not begin until 'almost the next auto show' in 1999, said GM Korea President Alan Perriton.
It was too late to change the official guide, so Perriton swapped Chevrolets for Opels.
'We would certainly like to have Opel products in Korea in the not too distant future,' said Perriton. But for now, he plans to promote the Chevrolet brand alongside GM's existing line of Cadillacs in Korea.
GM aims to sell 1,000 units in 1997 through its local distributor, Inchcape Korea Ltd. In 1996 it sold 580 units.
Ford Motor Co. Korea projects 1997 sales of 3,000, a threefold increase on last year.
Ford will add the Mercury Mystique to its lineup in September. Korea will then probably be the only market in the world where the Mystique and its European sister, the Ford Mondeo, are sold side by side.
Other Ford models entering Korea are the just-launched Lincoln Continental, the Lincoln Town Car, and the Ford Windstar, Explorer and Mustang.
By the end of the year Ford will have 21 Korean showrooms, up from 13 now.
The Jeep Cherokee is expected to get its Korean launch in July. It will join the Jeep Wrangler and Grand Cherokee and Chrysler Stratus.
'We're very close to making a decision on how to set up our dealer network,' said Wayne Chumley, president of Chrysler Korea Sales Ltd. Chrysler sells through 23 showrooms operated by 17 independent dealers.