Carmakers jostle for positions in S. Korea's electric car market

SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- Carmakers jostle for positions in South Korea's burgeoning electric car market as Seoul seeks to encourage ordinary citizens to buy zero-emission cars by offering subsidies and tax incentives.

Renault Samsung Motors Co., the South Korean unit of French automaker Renault S.A., said it has lowered the price of the electric version of its SM3 compact sedan to 45 million (US$40,000), down from the 60 million price tag of its previous model imported from Renault's plant in Turkey.

The latest SM3 electric car, to be produced in South Korea, is scheduled to hit local showrooms in October. The electric car travels 135 kilometers on a single charge, according to the carmaker.

The carmaker said 45 people in the country's southern resort island of Jeju applied to buy SM3 electric cars in the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province to get subsidies worth 8 million from the provincial authorities.

Separately, the environment ministry provides subsidies worth 15 million won to those who buy electric cars as part of the country's efforts to promote the use of electric cars that do not emit greenhouse gases largely responsible for global warming.

The subsidies and exemption from taxes mean that an ordinary driver can buy the new SM3 electric car for 19 million won, according to the carmaker. In comparison, the price of the gasoline-powered SM3 ranges from 15.3 million won 18.8 won.

Currently, about 1,100 electric cars are being used mostly by government agencies and public corporations across the country, according to Yang Chang-joo, an official handling the issue of electric cars at the environment ministry.

GM Korea Co., the local unit of U.S. General Motors Co., said its electric version of the compact Chevrolet Spark will hit local showrooms in the second half of this year. The carmaker said it will set an appropriate price for its electric car by taking into account of market conditions, an apparent reference to the price cut by Renault Samsung.

Kia Motors Corp., South Korea's second-largest carmaker, also said it was considering whether to cut the price of its electric car, the Ray, by 10 million won to 35 million won. Kia's move appears to have been affected by Renault Samsung's price cut of its new electric car.

Kia also said it plans to roll out the electric version of the Soul box cars in the first half of next year.

Kia's larger sister company, Hyundai Motor Co. said it plans to introduce a compact electric car in 2015. So far Hyundai has focused on hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as part of its move to produce eco-friendly vehicles.

In June, Hyundai said it delivered 15 units of hydrogen fuel cell versions of Hyundai's popular Tucson ix sport utility vehicle to Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark.

A fuel-cell car only emits water vapor as it converts stored hydrogen into electricity, which turns the vehicle's motor. It is a technological advance that could eventually reduce the heavy reliance on internal combustion engines that produce greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, Germany's BMW plans to introduce the i3 electric car in South Korea next May, according to the carmaker's local distributor.

Environment Minister Yoon Seong-kyu has pledged that South Korea will spare no efforts to establish an advanced market for electric cars, noting that his ministry has made preparations to revitalize the use of electric cars.

Earlier this year, LG CNS, the IT arm of South Korean conglomerate LG, said its affiliate has launched an electric vehicle sharing service for Seoul residents.

Under the service operated by EverOn, an affiliate of LG CNS, drivers can rent the electric vehicles at posts in Seoul Station and two other subway stations.

South Korea has installed 1,510 charging stations for electric cars across the country, including 110 quick charge stations, according to Yang of the environment ministry.

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