Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
As a child in the early ’80s, I remember spending a summer in Seoul and taking a trip with relatives to the countryside in a Hyundai Pony, South Korea’s first homegrown car. I spoke no Korean, but learned one word quickly enough: “lemon”.
Hyundai Motor has certainly come a long way since then.
Thirty-four years after introducing the Pony hatchback at the Turin Motor Show, Hyundai is the world’s fourth-largest carmaker, surpassing Ford Motor in the first half of this year. With the rest of the industry reeling from slumping sales, Hyundai’s charge has been especially conspicuous this year as it grabbed market share across the world and even made record profits in the latest quarter.
As my colleague Cheon Jong-woo and I wrote last week, Hyundai’s rise is making Japanese rivals nervous.
While Hyundai’s mounting success, founded on offering quality products at cheaper prices, has been in the cards for a while now, there are two new factors that worry the Japanese: a strong yen, coupled with the new government’s apparent indifference towards it, and South Korea’s progress in sealing free trade pacts.
It was like a dream come true. I’d always wanted a Ford Mustang and there I was, cruising around Tokyo in the latest version of the iconic sports car with the 4.0 litre, V6 engine producing a powerful roar every time I accelerated.
I was able to adjust pretty quickly to the left-side steering wheel — Japanese steering wheels are always on the right — though I had a few embarrassing mix-ups between the directionals and the windshield wipers.
Jan. 20 marked a new beginning for more than just Americans, who swore in Barack Obama as their first non-white president in history. It was a big day for the auto industry too: the dawn of a Fiat-Chrysler partnership, and the appointment of a founding family member to the top job at Toyota Motor Corp for the first time in 14 years.
The Toyota move, first flagged in Japanese media a month ago, has been highly sensationalized in Japan.