Back some years ago, I was a contributor for a NYC-based site called Man on the Move that featured unique vehicles captured on the streets. Sort of an automotive equivalent to style spotting street fashion. It was a good exercise in being aware every time I went out to scan all the parked cars and pay constant attention to what was driving by. During my time in South Korea, I revived this quest to document the vehicles special to the Korean market and those that caught my eye.
South Korea is a fairly homogenous automotive landscape. It’s dominated by Hyundai/Kia/Genesis. But there’s also a significant number of Chevrolet cars on the streets from the acquisition of Daewoo. The Chevy Spark, Malibu and Impala models were everywhere.
Vintage cars in South Korea are a rarity but there are quite a few supercars to be seen, especially in areas of Seoul. My impression is Porsche is also quite popular, having seen 911s, Taycans and Cayennes just about everywhere.
The following are a few highlights of things I spotted followed by the gallery below.
Photos and Text: Dave Pinter
Kia seems to offer a prismatic finish wheel. I spotted a few Sorrentos with these. Scanning the Korea specific Kia website, I couldn’t find these listed as a factory option. They are attention grabbing and shift colors depending on the direction of light and viewing angle.
These little blue foam blocks and shapes appear stuck on to the majority of doors on cars, SUVs and even trucks around South Korea. They aren’t pretty but the tight city parking conditions are probably why they’re so common to see.
The lone camouflaged car I spotted was unfortunately poorly timed near a highway tool booth. Hence the guard rail in the way. Not sure exactly what this is other than it has Kia wheels and is right hand drive. So it’s likely not destined for the domestic Korean or North American markets.
Kia 360 | Gangnam
Kia360 is a brand space opened in late 2021 which used to be known as BEAT360. It is Kia’s main experience space located on the high profile street Apgujeong-ro in Gangnam. The facade and interior feature tiles oriented in a parametric pattern. The interior includes a cafe and several interactive experiences. The space is encompassed by a circular roadway that starts inside and wraps around an exterior courtyard. The clever disguising of the existing building’s facade and use rounded end to inform the sweeping interior roadway are nice design touches. As far as automotive brand spaces go, Kia360 is impressive to walkthrough, even if it does ultimately skew more towards a dealership vibe.
Some of my favorite vehicles from this set are the Hyundai Casper and Kia Ray, both not available in the US. Wish these were as they both are small, practical and have loads of personality. There just aren’t many options for cars like these in the US anymore.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Hyundai Grandeur sedan and Staria van. They share a similar minimalist design aesthetic that contrasts nicely against the background of Seoul’s visually chaotic streets. I saw many and managed to capture one of the Staria Kinder vans, which is a factory school bus version sold by Hyundai.
The other outlier is KG Mobility, South Korea’s only domestic pickup truck manufacturer. The Khan comes in all sorts of interesting and weird bed configurations. The Torres is KG’s rugged looking SUV.
As for supercars, there’s a couple Ferraris I managed to catch. I did see a few McLarens and a lone Lamborghini Urus that escaped capture. The only vintage cars I came across were a MINI with a bit of Castrol racing livery and a pair of late 60s Crown taxis by Shinjin Motor Company in the lobby of an Incheon museum.
South Korea doesn’t have an established a car culture as say Japan due to a relatively young domestic industry. With the transition to electrification underway, and Hyundai getting deeper in to performance models, the region is ripe for some potential new take on vehicle personalization and collecting.