Showing Off North Korean Cars

 "Gather the Efforts of the Race...to the World"

"Gather the Efforts of the Race...to the World"

The JV might be dead, the showroom is lively.

The car: people in developing countries want them as they convey status. Countries want auto industries for the same reason. The DPRK, renowned for for its military hardware, began producing civilian cars in conjunction with South Korea's Unification Church in 2002. 

Visitors to Pyongyang are often struck by how the only billboards not advertising a combination of the fatherland/party/military/leadership are advertisements for Pyonghwa Motors. Since last year, visitors have also been able to stop by an attractive showroom that has been set up on Gwangbok Street in Pyongyang. It is replete with test-driveable models on display, a spare-parts store and even a cafe. 

They are also eminently visible on the streets of Pyongyang, though according to reports made public, they have never sold particularly well. The company began to see a small profit in 2009 though just a few years later - around 2012 - we started hearing that the the Unification Church wanted out. This was partly due to the weak sales, but also part of a broader strategy by the church to divest itself of some of its holdings. We heard that they were trying to sell their 70% share in the Joint Venture. Since then, however, news on the matter has been absent. (Calls to the Seoul number listed on their website go unanswered.)

The staff in the Pyongyang showroom said that it was a 100% DPRK company now and had been for "some years", but didn't have much time to chat: they were busy working with a group of Koreans looking to buy. Meanwhile, another group were test driving a jeep-like model.

An employee also told us that that they had produced 1600 cars at their Nampo factory last year and the cars are a mix of Chinese and Korean-made parts. Some of the cars in the showroom seemed to be fully Chinese, however, not even re-badged the the Pyongwha Motors logo. Most models still appear to come from knock-down kits. - their most famous model, the 'whistle' is based on the Fiat Siena. Prices for various models started from around $10,000 US going above $30,000.

Upstairs, there is a auto-parts shop, with some shy staff who were told off by their boss for slinking away when this author started snapping photos.