SEOUL, Korea, Feb 23 (Korea Bizwire) – More and more car buyers are weighing whether to go for a diesel or hybrid model instead of an usual gasoline-fueled car. This trend is further encouraged by the government that is stepping up regulations on fuel efficiency. Then what would be the better choice between diesel and hybrid car? If the same question is asked ten years later when the internal combustion engine will be obsolete, the answer might be a hybrid car or something more advanced than that. But right now the correct answer is closer to a diesel model.
In January this year, the sales of hybrid models by Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors were 2,474 units, up 157 percent from the same month the previous year. That’s largely thanks to the new hybrid models such as the Grandeur and K7 launched in late last year. By model, Hyundai’s Grandeur Hybrid topped the list with 1,156, followed by Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (466), Kia’s K5 Hybrid (447), and K7 (385).
Diesel models’ sales were equally brisk. According to the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association, the number of diesel cars sold last year was 672,025, up 13.5 percent from the previous year’s 592,083. The share in total registered cars thus rose to 43.5 percent, surpassing that for gasoline cars (42.5%) for the first time in history.
The excellent performance of diesel cars was in large measure due to the strengthened fuel efficiency regulation. The Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy proposed this year a revised law on energy consumption by which it would impose penalties of up to 1 percent of the annual sales revenue beginning in 2015 if car makers are unable to meet the average fuel efficiency of 17 kilometers per liter for cars with fewer than 10 seats produced for each year. The Ministry of Environment has also announced a scheme to impose higher taxes on new car buyers who purchase cars with carbon dioxide emissions over and above a certain level from next year.
A simple comparison between diesel and hybrid cars based on market acceptance reveals that diesel cars are much more popular than gasoline-based hybrid cars. The share of diesel automobiles in the total passenger car market last year was 32.4 percent while that for hybrids is only 2.3 percent. The popularity of diesel cars is more pronounced in the import car segment.
In January, the number of imported diesel models sold in Korea was 10,363, accounting for 69.8 percent in total import cars sold for the month. As for Audi and BMW, the ratios were 81 and 80 percent, respectively. In contrast, the share of hybrids in import cars has declined slightly last year to 5,835 from 6,342 in 2012, largely because of the lackluster performance of Toyota, the leader in hybrid models. The number of Toyota hybrids sold in 2013 was 2,257 from 4,114 in the previous year. As for Lexus, however, the situation was different. The number of Lexus hybrids sold last year was 3,365, up more than 1,000 units from the previous year.
Mercedes-Benz unveiled last year the E-Class E300 Bluetec Hybrid model in the Korean market. As the model exhibits faster acceleration than comparable gasoline models, it is expected to attract attention from upscale car buyers. This year Volkswagen came up with a diesel plug-in hybrid model XL1. Mounted with a 27-hp electric motor and a 48-hp diesel engine, the 795-kg lightweight XL1 is capable of traveling up to 111 km on 1 liter of diesel fuel.
An import car dealership official said, “The selling point for hybrid or electric cars used to be fuel efficiency but now that has changed to environmental friendliness and performance like acceleration time. For lower- and mid-priced models, diesel cars will dominate hybrids. But higher-priced models, we expect the share of hybrids to increase rapidly.”