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THE INVESTOR

Automobiles

Mixed reaction to Tesla Korea’s debut

  • PUBLISHED :March 20, 2017 - 17:27
  • UPDATED :March 20, 2017 - 18:03
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[THE INVESTOR] The opening of two Tesla Korea stores last week after months of delay was very much highlighted by the media and industry watchers here.

Boasting the Tesla Model S 90D, the first local store of the US-based electric car giant opened in Starfield Hanam, a mega shopping complex, on March 15, followed by another one in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul, on March 17.




Related:
Tesla expresses disappointment at Korea’s subsidy rule, pins hope on market


On March 17, avid fans and related officials visited the Cheongdam store to catch a glimpse of the red and white Model S cars displayed. 

A service center is located on the first basement of the Cheongdam store where drivers can repair and check their car. However, it is not yet open as Telsa Korea is set to begin deliveries in June. 

Consumers can design a car of their choice by selecting its color and interior, among other features, at the design studio in the store.

As visitors looked around, they gave mixed opinions, from excitement over the cars to concerns over the premature domestic market for EVs. Some also offered their thoughts on the design that they finally got to see in real life for the first time. 

The Environment Ministry’s decision to exclude Tesla EVs from a subsidy has been heatedly debated long before the auto brand landed here.

The South Korean government currently provides a subsidy for electric cars that take less than 10 hours for a full charge using a public charger. It takes the Tesla Model S 90D some 14 hours for a full charge. 

The Model S 90D is the only model approved by the Korean government for sales so far.

It has a driving distance of 378 kilometers on a full charge, which is the longest among electric vehicles in the domestic market, according to the Ministry of Environment.

The model can achieve up to 100 kilometers per hour in 4.4 seconds from a standstill, faster than an average sports car, according to the carmaker. 

“The launch of Tesla Korea will speed up progress of EV development by local auto companies, which is good news for consumers,” said Kim Pil-soo, a professor of automotive engineering at Daelim University.

“The 10-hour time limit will most surely be lifted based on advisory reports to the Environment Ministry in June,” an industry insider said on the condition of anonymity.

Potential Telsa buyers, meanwhile, remained wary over the lack of charging infrastructure.

“The number of chargers in Korea are far from enough. It costs over 100 million won ($89,232) to purchase a Tesla car. So when I’m investing that much money, I want to be guaranteed to be able to drive the car around without worrying about stopping in the middle of the road,” said Hong Tae-hoon, 27, an avid fan of cutting-edge automobiles. 

A wall connecter comes with the vehicle, but costs up to 4 million won to install.

Mindful of such downsides, Tesla Korea shared plans to expand the number of chargers to 25 spots together with South Korean retail giant Shinsegae Group, and install five high-speed battery chargers in Seoul.

There are chargers offered free of charge at Hanam Starfield and Cheongdam stores.

The prevalent opinion on the design was that the Model S falls short of the exclusivity of luxury cars sold by conventional high-end automakers at a similar price range. 

The Model S 90D is priced between 120 million won and 161 million won.

“Tesla is a relatively new automaker, so it lacks big data and know-how on design,” said Kim.

Some observers said the Model S 90D’s rear seat is not comfortable as it lacks leg room and has a low seating position as well as a protruding backrest seat cushion. 

Tesla Korea is working with the government to introduce six more Model S trims. 

By Kim Bo-gyung/The Korea Herald (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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