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Top 10 Korean Car Brands and Companies

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Last updated:

Even though Korea is a smaller country compared to monsters like the United States or Canada, they produce some of the world’s most sought-after vehicles. 

This is especially true in South Korea, where their culture focuses on the values of engineering and technological innovators.

The list below contains 10 Korean car brands that have wowed the world for decades. They display innovation, creativity, engineering, and technological perfection while also supplying affordable access. 

Each company has a unique history. But, none is as much of a giant as Hyundai, Korea’s most popular car brand.

Unfortunately, the automobile manufacturing market in Korea is dying down to dangerous levels. 

Many factors play into this, but they still reign at the top of worldwide personal car sales.

10 Korean Car Brands

These 10 Korean car brands are some of the most popular ones in the world. Many people will immediately recognize some names, while others will be a little more obscure. 

A few of them are no longer in business, but their mention here comes from the fact that they are still quite popular and remembered brands people desire.

  1. Pyeonghwa Motors (평화자동차)
  2. SsangYong Motors (쌍용자동차 주식회사)
  3. Proto Motors (프로토자동차)
  4. CT&T United (씨티엔티)
  5. Renault Samsung Motors (르노코리아자동차)
  6. Daewoo (대우)
  7. Infiniti (코리아)
  8. KIA Motors (기아)
  9. Asia Motors (아시아자동차)
  10. Hyundai Motor Company (현대자동차)

About Korean Car Manufacturing

Before we dive deep into the list of the 10 most famous Korean car brands, there are some things to note about the industry in that part of the world. 

It will help give background information when you read about the specific manufacturers later.

Both North and South Korea produce cars. However, only one from North Korea is on this list – Pyeonghwa Motors. 

This is due to the harsh conditions and restrictions combined with the low demand for vehicles in North Korea. 

Therefore, they don’t have a large yearly production output. While Pyeonghwa isn’t from North Korea, they partner with Ryonbong, which is.

The method and means of producing Korean cars are a little different too. This is due to the strict regulations placed on them by the South Korean government, as well as North Korea and China.  

A History of Difficulty & Devastation

Also, the Asian financial and energy markets have gone through devastating blows in the 1970s and again in the late 1990s. 

This has affected many Korean car brands, with some going completely defunct. 

Therefore, while many excellent car producers in South Korea, existential conditions have truncated its progress.

With the current push for electric cars and the removal of personal vehicles by the World Economic Forum, Korea’s future in the automotive industry is shaky. 

But, South Korea seems to pull through against all the odds and regardless of the pressures put upon them by outside influences.

Korean Car Brands

1. Pyeonghwa Motors (평화자동차)

  • Year Established: 1988
  • Parent/Partner: Ryonbong General Corporation
  • Founder/CEO: Park Sang-Kwon
  • Headquarters: Seoul, South Korea
  • Website: http://www.pyeonghwamotors.com/

With a name translating to “peace” motors, this is a joint venture centered in Seoul. Pyeonghwa (based in Seoul) along with Ryonbong General Corporation (based in North Korea) work together to produce a variety of compact and small SUVs, pickup trucks, and compact cars.

Operating under the Brilliance China Auto licensure as well as Fiat, they hold exclusive rights to produce, sell and purchase vehicles in North Korea. 

Each year Pyeonghwa produces about 10,000 automobiles. They are a main servicer to both North and South Korea along with much of the Asian world.

2. SsangYong Motors (쌍용자동차 주식회사)

  • Year Established: 1954 / 1988
  • Parent Company: Mahindra & Mahindra Limited
  • Founder/CEO: Yea Byung-tae
  • Headquarters: Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
  • Website: http://www.smotor.com/

SsangYong Motors is one of South Korea’s largest vehicle producers. Its genesis started manufacturing Jeeps for the US Army as Hadonghwan Motor Company in 1954. 

Then, in 1988, the Ssangyong Business Group acquired the company and changed its name. Today, they produce 4x4s, SUVs and RVs.

Its emblem of two intertwined dragons flying into the sky represents their name and the Chinese zodiac, translating to “two dragons” (1988 was the Year of the Dragon). 

They ship their products worldwide, with the United States being SsangYong’s biggest importer.

3. Proto Motors (프로토자동차)

  • Year Established: 1997
  • Parent/Partner Company: Hyundai, Daewoo, Kia
  • Founder: Unknown
  • Headquarters: South Korea
  • Website: not applicable

While not a large company, Proto Motors provides busses, sports cars, and coaches to the whole of South Korea. 

They do have close partnerships with Kia, Daewoo, and Hyundai. This is because their main focus and specialty are redesigning existing models and dipping their toes into electric car development.

In 2001, Proto Motors came out with their own convertible limousine specifically for the South Korean president, Cheongwadae. 

However, the company officially closed in 2017, but its popularity is still high in Korea.

4. CT&T United (씨티엔티)

  • Year Established: 2002
  • Parent Company: CT&T United
  • Founder(s): Young Gi Lee & Joseph J. White
  • Headquarters: South Korea
  • Website: http://www.ctntunited.com/

CT&T United is one of Korea’s largest producers of battery-powered electric cars. They also have some of the most popular models available today. 

They include the cZone low-speed auto, eVan, eZone medium-speed auto and the Police EV.

Many speculate that CT&T United may be the only electric car producer that can pass passenger crash tests on a global level. 

What helps is their sales and assembly in the United States, such as their plant on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

5. Renault Samsung Motors (르노코리아자동차)

  • Year Established: 1995 / 2000
  • Parent Company: Samsung, Semyung (SsangYong) Motors & Renault Automotive
  • Founder/CEO: Dominique Signora
  • Headquarters: Busan/Seoul, South Korea
  • Website: www.renaultsamsungm.com

Originally begun in 1994, Renault Samsung is now a collaboration between the French and South Koreans. Its current manifestation came about in 2000 as a response to the Asian financial crash that year. 

This combines all the wonderful technological advancements and materials from Samsung combined with the French automaker giant, Renault.

Renault Samsung produces a host of SUVs, pickup trucks, and other types of vehicles. Their largest importers are the whole Asian world and throughout Europe. 

Moreover, this company also produces vehicles for the South Korean military and other Asian armed forces.

Their most notable models include the 2003 Actyon Sports SUV, QM5 (crossover), SM7, QM3, SM5 (first successful model), Korando line, and SM3.

6. Daewoo (대우)

  • Year Established: 1967 / 1983
  • Parent/Partner Company: General Motors (GM)
  • Founder/CEO: Kim Woo-choong, Kim Jun
  • Headquarters: Bupyeon-gu, Incheon, South Korea
  • Website: www.gm-korea.co.kr

Daewoo, meaning “great universe,” is a huge automobile giant that has several partnerships with global manufacturers like General Motors and local vehicle makers such as Proto Motors. 

This mega-conglomerate began in Incheon, South Korean in 1967. Eventually, it became Saenara Motor and later, it turned into Shinjin Motor upon a partnership with Toyota.

Once they began collaborating with General Motors, they took the world by storm! While using the GM format for car design, they developed and expanded the ideas. 

However, when financial problems appeared in 2001, GM bought Daewoo Motor and gained 100% of the rights.

Daewoo’s most famous models are the Matiz and Lanos, with the former becoming the company’s top seller in the late 1990s. 

However, due to bankruptcy and other financial issues, the company is downsizing its staff and cutting jobs across the board. The future of Daewoo is fragile, to say the least.

7. Infiniti (코리아)

Many people may recognize Infiniti as an American vehicle from the Japanese auto manufacturer, Nissan. 

However, it has become quite the staple throughout South Korea in recent years. This is an amazing luxury line of Korean cars, with popularity and desirability all over the world, especially in Saudi Arabia.

Infiniti makes autos of all kinds, such as SUVs, sedans, sports cars, coupes, and crossovers. 

However, due to major financial hardships and setbacks, Japan’s Nissan is pulling Infiniti out of Korea altogether. But they are offering after-sales service until 2028. 

While the future of Infiniti is quite uncertain in Korea, global demand for vehicles remains unchanged.

8. KIA Motors (기아)

  • Year Established: 1944
  • Parent Company: Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group
  • Founder/CEO:  Song Ho-sung
  • Headquarters: Seoul, South Korea
  • Website: http://www.kia.com

Kia Motors Corporation is Korea’s oldest and most trusted automobile manufacturer, with its 1944 start making steel bicycle and motorcycle parts. 

They’re the fifth-largest carmaker in the world, currently producing well over a million vehicles each year. Plus, they have a distributor and dealer network that’s 3,000 strong.

After making parts for more than 20 years, in 1974, they began passenger car production. 

When the mid-1980s arrived, they partnered with Mazda and Ford auto companies to produce Kia’s first models: Avella and Pride. 

After the Asian market crisis in the late 1990s, it became a subsidiary of Hyundai.

You can find Kia cars in 172 countries, with annual revenue of around $17 billion (USD). 

Their designs, manufacturing guidelines, and production output are what make their vehicles so affordable and accessible. 

While they do have headquarters in Korea, they’re expanding this into the United States and Europe.

9. Asia Motors (아시아자동차)

  • Year Established: 1965
  • Parent Company: KIA Motors
  • Founder: Unknown
  • Headquarters: Gwangju, South Korea
  • Website: http://kia.com

While Asia Motors is now defunct, it is still a very much desirable vehicle in the resale markets around Korea. When the company began in 1965, it produced military vehicles. 

Eventually, they began manufacturing SUVs, mini busses, and other heavy-duty vehicles. Then Dongkuk Steel bought Asia Motors in 1969.

In 1973, the Korean government launched a project to award auto manufacturers contracts by promoting budget-friendly, fuel-efficient vehicles. 

Unfortunately, Asia Motors failed to meet these conditions and suffered huge losses as a result.

When KIA became more popular and powerful in the 1990s, it bought Asia Motors as a subsidiary. 

But, when Hyundai bought out KIA, Asia Motors ceased its existence by 1999.

10. Hyundai Motor Company (현대자동차)

  • Year Established: 1946 / 1967
  • Parent Company: Hyundai Motor Group
  • Founder: Chung Ju-yung
  • Headquarters: Seoul, South Korea
  • Website: http://www.hyundai-motor.com

Coming in as a final mention on this list of Korean car brands is Hyundai Motor Company. 

As mentioned in other car brands above, they have swallowed a majority of the Korean vehicle market. 

In fact, they’re the fourth-largest car manufacturer in the world. This is a staple corporation for Korea and is the most popular of all Korean-produced vehicles.

Even though they began in 1946, their name came to fruition in 1967. Their claim to fame, and what propelled them international acclaim, were their Excel and Pony models. 

This attracted a huge customer base in places like the United States and Canada. When they came out with the Sonata in 1988, their success soared.

The name translates to “modern era,” which the company exudes in its passion for innovation and progress. 

They started out making military equipment, oil rigs, and another massive infrastructure engineering. 

They produce over a million Korean cars each year, making them topnotch in quality and affordability.

Conclusion

Albeit a small region of the world, Korea is a car-manufacturing giant in its own right. While most of this is due in part to the efforts of Hyundai, many other makers have put them on the map. 

Almost anyone in Western countries like the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe, can recognize most of the brand names on this list.

Whether KIA, Hyundai, or Daewoo, anyone who has driven one of these will tell you they all offer a smooth ride.

Plus, these are some of the most excellent while also being great on gas mileage and very simple to repair. 

To pull off such a feat in an automobile is an accomplishment that’s difficult to come by.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

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