The domestic problems in South Korea are creating an opportunity for global automakers in a country that has been vitually closed to outsiders.
South Korea has a large domestic market and is a low-cost export base. Asia has lost some of its allure in recent years, but still figures to grow much faster than other regions of the world. South Korea is an important stronghold in the Pacific Rim.
Foreign carmakers seem to understand this -even if the Korean companies they are looking at are in a shambles. General Motors made a firm bid for Daewoo Motor in December. Now Ford has sent a team to Korea to investigate a possible bid. Ford underscored its seriousness by hiring a former Daewoo, Porsche and BMW product development executive - Ulrich Bez - to act as a consultant.
Renault has announced that it wants to buy Samsung Motors, the deeply troubled automaking arm of the giant Korea group. Samsung Motors got its start with technical help from Nissan, so Renault's interest is natural. Samsung Motors would probably come cheap. For $2 billion, Renault could have a state-of-the art assembly plant and a dealer network in Korea.
Korean carmakers overborrowed, overspent and overreached in their bid to become major global players. But they cut an interesting figure while doing it. They showed an entrepreneurial zeal in developing markets that might have buoyed them through the current crisis had those same markets not collapsed.
The Koreans also demonstrated how to win market share in Europe, not only through pricing, but with creative product and marketing ideas. They were wrong to keep the Korean market closed, but the arrival of global owners probably means they will no longer do so.
The interest in Daewoo and Samsung is not misplaced. These are solid opportunities.