From Hankook to Hyundai

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena (Saudi Gazette)

This article even though it focuses Saudi Arabia is quite relevant Sri Lanka, too. -TW

Almost every other car you see on the road is a Hyundai and most vehicles in the Kingdom are being run on Hankook tires. These are observations as a motorist who frequently plies the country’s roadways.

Now what makes these two Korean giants so popular in this country? Hyundai today has drawn even with the previously dominant Toyota, while Hankook strives to become the leading tire manufacturer by 2020.

Hyundai Motor Co. was established in 1967, less than a decade before Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented oil boom. It has now grown into the Hyundai Motor Group, which has ranked as the world’s fifth-largest automaker since 2007 and includes more than two dozen auto-related subsidiaries and affiliates.

Remember the Pony brand of vehicles that was imported into the Kingdom around 2007 and 2008? Everybody would laugh and snicker at the quality of those “tin” cars and jokes would be made about doors falling off as soon as the ignition was turned on. After all, a car from Korea? Come on.

Today, this same company now exports over one million high-quality vehicles ranging from sedans and SUVs to trucks and buses. Hyundai Motor, South Korea’s largest automaker and its affiliate Kia Motors sold 7.88 million vehicles in over 186 countries through some 5,300 dealers.

Hankook tires, another South Korean manufacturing giant based in Seoul, is the 7th largest tire company in the world. Although this company started before Hyundai, it too commands its place on the world’s stage. Hankook tires have a dominant presence in the Saudi market thanks to an aggressive sales and distribution system set up by the company’s authorized dealer. Hankook aims to be the top tire producer worldwide by 2020 with over five percent of the company’s income going into research and development. More recently, it expanded its tire supplies to global luxury carmakers, which it believes will help promote the global sales of its products.

Marwan Bin Shihon, the vice-president of Bin Shihon group, which is the authorized dealer in the Kingdom, explained the success of Hankook tires in the local market and how this fruitful alliance with the Korean company has helped Bin Shihon to capture the dominant share of the Saudi tire market today. This partnership has been spurred by their mutual aim to provide the “highest quality of product and customer satisfaction without compromise.”

But this column is not just about these two Korean companies. There are others that are globally recognized, from Samsung to LG and Posco Steel, each producing products that we as consumers simply cannot live without.

What then has all of this to do with us in the Kingdom? The question arises: How is it that a country like South Korea from where we used to import laborers to work on our infrastructure about five decades ago, could transform itself into a global manufacturing enterprise while we Saudis, blessed with all the natural resources that the Almighty has bestowed on us, continue to remain a consumer nation? Remember that back in the late 60s and 70s, South Korea was still a struggling nation, just recovering from a war that split the nation and was followed by internal struggles for democratization.

Today, South Korea is a developed country driven by a highly educated and skilled workforce, having the world’s eighth highest median household income. Globally, it ranks highly in personal safety, job security, ease of doing business and healthcare quality, with the world’s third highest health adjusted life expectancy and fourth most efficient healthcare system. It is the world’s largest spender on R&D per GDP, among its many other laurels.

Meanwhile back home, what has happened to all of our master plans and five-year plans? Why have they failed to materialize? And where have the chief architects of those glorious sounding and ambitious plans to turn the Kingdom into a world-class commercial and economic entity gone?

Talk is cheap and memories are short. Setting goals and visions is one thing. Achieving them as the Koreans have successfully done is another thing.

The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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