A Quick History of North Korean Cars
North Korea began to produce cars in 1958, not long after the Korean War ended. North Korean cars soon outnumbered their South Korean counterparts and by 1965, the DPRK was producing about 4,000 cars per year.
Things are a little different today. South Korea made 4.3 million vehicles in 2016, while in contrast, North Korea’s annual auto production remained below 4,000 – a similar level to 50 years ago.
North Korea’s first auto plant was the Sungri factory in Tokchon. It mainly produced replicas of foreign brands for both civilian and government use. These included the Pyongyang 4.10 and Kaengsaeng 88 which were clones of a late 1980s Mercedes-Benz W201. Russian models were also replicated, especially off road and pick-up truck versions of the GAZ 69, 51 & 63.
By the 1980s it was producing thousands of cars on an annual basis but by 1996 amid the height of economic downturn and famine, the factory produced just 150 military vehicles. The plant is still in operation and was visited by Marshal Kim Jong Un in 2017.
Founded in 1999, Nampo based Pyeonghwa Motors in is a joint venture between South Korea’s Pyeonghwa Motors (owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church) and North Korea’s Ryonbong General Corp. In 2013 Pyeonghwa motors of South Korea (and the Unification Church) sold their 70% stake to a Chinese company via the North Korean government.
It was an odd marriage to begin with considering the late reverend’s vocal opposition to communism, but he had seen the joint venture as a way to foster peace and reconciliation between North and South Korea.
“Pyeonghwa” means peace & its logo features two flying doves. It is the biggest player in this small market producing less than 2,000 units a year.
It makes 5 types of commercial car which include a mini version known as the Hwiparam , a 4×4 model called the “pronto”, a mini van known as the Beokgugi and an executive class vehicle known as the Junma.
Prices start from $10,000 USD, which might seem low, but one has to keep in mind that the average income in North Korea is estimated to be around $1,300 a year. That puts the Pyeonghwa out of the reach of all but a small elite group of North Koreans.
They make up around 20% of the cars on the streets of Pyongyang and is also the only item you will see advertised on billboards & television in North Korea. What about the other 80%?
North Korea does have a history of importing cars from Russia and Europe although this has completely stopped in recent years due to sanctions.
Back in the 1970s, Kim’s grandfather famously authorized the import of 100 Volvos from Sweden. The deal was full of disputes and the Swedes still claim to this day that they were never paid.
Footage from the recent summits with US President Donald Trump showed that the North Korean leader was arriving in a Mercedes Maybach S600. The car is worth over $1 Million and makers Daimler claim they have no idea how the vehicle reached North Korea.
It was likely shipped from Europe via 5 different countries on the black market to evade sanctions.
Apart from the domestic made executive “Junma”, other luxury BMWs & Mercedes are becoming a more common sight on the streets of Pyongyang. Of course these are only in use by the top brass and elite but it shows that this is a growing bracket.
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