GM Korea Co., the local unit of U.S. General Motors Co., unveiled its first electric vehicle (EV) on Tuesday, in the latest move to jostle for position in South Korea's nascent market for zero-emission cars.
The electric version of the compact Chevrolet Spark is scheduled to hit local showrooms in October, the carmaker said, as its senior-level officials signed a preliminary deal with their counterparts at the environment ministry and a provincial city to boost the use of electric cars.
GM Korea President and CEO Sergio Rocha said the Spark, which will be propelled solely by electric power, is "the most efficient electric vehicle" in South Korea and that it can travel 135 kilometers on a single charge.
The launch ceremony came as South Korea seeks to encourage ordinary citizens to buy electric cars that do not emit greenhouse gases largely responsible for global warming.
"We will make our utmost efforts to revitalize the market of electric cars by expanding charging infrastructure and subsidies," Jeong Yeon-man, vice environment minister, said at the ceremony. He called the move part of South Korea's efforts to cope with the climate change.
The environment ministry provides subsidies worth 15 million won (US$13,455) to those who buy electric cars. Separately, the provincial authorities in the country's southern resort island of Jeju provide subsidies worth 8 million won to those who buy electric cars.
The price of the Spark EV is set at 39.9 million won. Still, the subsidies mean that an ordinary driver can buy the Spark EV for 17 million won, according to the carmaker. In comparison, the price of the gasoline-powered Spark ranges around 15 million won.
The price range "makes the Spark EV much appealing to our customers," Rocha said in the ceremony.
But the subsidies from local authorities are currently available only in Jeju. Changwon, a southeastern industrial city home to Spark's assembly line, also plans to provide subsidies worth 6 million won to help promote the use of electric cars, said Kim Bo-geun, an official handling issues related to electric cars at Changwon city.
It was not immediately clear if any other local authorities plan to offer similar incentives.
Leslie Bassett, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, said the launch of Spark EV highlights the powerful combination of American innovation and Korean manufacturing.
"It is also a great example where our alliance is headed in the 21st century, a partnership that is literally driving green technology into the future," she said at the ceremony.
GM Korea has shipped unspecified number of the Spark EV to California and Oregon, the carmaker said, without elaborating on its sales performance in the U.S.
In South Korea, the Spark EV is set to compete against the SM3 electric car by Renault Samsung Motors Co., the South Korean unit of French automaker Renault S.A.
Renault Samsung has said it plans to introduce its electric car in October and lowered the price to 45 million won, down from the 60 million won price tag of its previous model.
The SM3 EV also travels 135 kilometers on a single charge, according to the carmaker.
Kia Motors Corp., South Korea's second-largest carmaker, has already rolled out its electric car called "the Ray" and said it plans to introduce the electric version of its Soul box car in the first half of next year.
Kia's larger sister company Hyundai Motor Co. has 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.
As of June, a total of 1,146 electric cars were used mostly by government agencies and public corporations across the country, according to Yang Chang-joo, an official handling electric cars-related issues at the environment ministry.
South Korea has installed 1,165 charging stations for electric cars across the country, including 110 quick charge stations, said Yang, adding that the government plans to set up 100 additional quick charging stations by the end of this year.