I saw a wonderful movie, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which masterfully wove into the story a multi-level complexity that engaged my mind, and left me cheered up about the sometimes discouraging complexity of my own life. A thread of this weave was the moment when the two protagonists needed a car for their investigative foray into the boonies. Did they commandeer one by knocking bad guys out of their driver’s seat? No, they went to the rental agency and secured a modest Kia SUV, and let the drama proceed.
This happened at a peak moment in the drama, so the importance of the frontal image of the Kia was heightened for me. I think the subliminal message in these few frames was to remind us that the focal point of the advancement of industrial/technical production progress in the world today, is South Korea.
The facts are reported to us on a regular basis, but the conclusions are ours to grasp, to realize, and to operate upon. The most successful manufacturer in the world today in the two most ubiquitous and important appliance categories is Samsung, from South Korea, tops in the fields of Television and Mobile Phones. That’s pretty spectacular, no?
If you examine the other major consumer category, Automobiles, you can find a glaring phenomena: most manufacturer’s prices are head to head with each other, with two brands priced noticeably lower than the rest for comparable models, Kia and Hyundai, the South Korean brands.
Are you old enough to remember when Japanese cars broke in to our markets? Datsuns (as Nissan products were then known) and Toyotas were being bought in unusually high numbers by middle Americans who looked at the facts, at the experiences of their neighbors, and at their own strained personal economic situations, and dared to go beyond the mainstream economy’s dogma about buying American.
We are long past any remaining patriotism driving most auto buying decisions, and in fact if you examine the situation thoroughly, the remaining difference between historically American and Foreign car brands has more to do with whether the workers are unionized or not, rather than where they are made. Both categories make their cars both inside and outside of the USA.
There were many years wherein Japanese cars were still thought of by many as representing the cheap workmanship and copy-cat designing that characterized Japanese made toys in the 50s.
But while the corporate advertised version of reality wasn’t watching, consumers who had to budget their resources tried and adored the Japanese alternatives to the increasingly uninteresting cars from the Big 3, and appreciated the opportunity to drive technology similar to the more advanced European cars in an affordable form. The Datsun 510 had an engine similar to the small Mercedes, and the Datsun 240Z was considered the Japanese Jaguar, with its inline 6 cyl. overhead cam engine.
So I propose that we are at a similar juncture here, when many are using and appreciating Korean products, but others are not aware that they have risen to the top of the value equation.