It’s surprising, when you consider how big and vibrant the Korean car industry is, that its international motor show fills only one large hall.
Hyundai-Kia combined sold almost four million cars in 2007, almost 80 per cent of them exported, while GM Daewoo – aka Chevrolet – sold another 1.9 million, and there’s Renault-owned Samsung and Ssangyong besides.
However, imports account for only six per cent of new car sales in Korea, virtually all of them medium to high-end models, and the recession kept some makers such as BMW and Jaguar Land Rover away. Only Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, VW, Audi, Lexus and Ford were present – and there wasn’t a supercar in sight.
Despite this, Seoul 2009 had its highlights, every one of the domestic makers debuting something new, including Ssangyong, currently being reconstituted having recently gone under.
But for a show of strength you needed to look to Hyundai and Kia, whose stands were the most lavish, if nothing special compared to the edifices some companies have constructed during fatter times.
Star of Hyundai’s stand was the Blue Will concept, a large plug-in hybrid hatchback whose swirling crease lines were certainly eye-grabbing if not beautiful.
It packs a lot of technology, and there’s serious intent behind it, as it previews an array of hybrids including a pair of Europe-bound models, one of them the plug-in parallel variety, each to have bespoke bodywork.
Blue Will is powered by the 152bhp 1.6-litre direct injection petrol and 134bhp electric motor that will propel the production models, which are due in 2012.
The concept also features an exhaust heat recapturing system, recycled and bio-plastics and a glass roof with near-transparent solar cells.
The company also revealed the Elantra LPG hybrid, for Korea only later this year, and its new flagship Equus saloon, which we won’t be seeing either. Nor will Europe get the upmarket Genesis coupe, which is more of a shame.
Next door, Kia unveiled the new Sorento SUV, a large, European-looking saloon concept called KND-5 created by Kia’s Frankfurt design centre - it previews a production version - and a multitude of multi-coloured Souls, including a one-off pick-up.
Kia’s Sorento SUV is a Peter Schreyer design from Kia Frankfurt that’s neat, contemporary and pretty unexceptional inside and out. But it’s spacious, a big boot housing a third row of seats.
Samsung seemed more downbeat than Hyundai or Kia, its Megane-based SM3 saloon looking neatly unremarkable, but the curvy eMX concept was more radical.
The eMX concept's curvy shapes explore a design language intended for eco-friendly small cars – it’s the first car entirely designed by Smasung’s RSM Design centre.
However, there's no escaping the fact that, like Ssangyong, Samsung swims in the shadow of a Hyundai-Kia axis that appears in rude health.