Many British motorists will have no end of distrust of Korean cars. Most will wince at the thought of the absolutely awful nature of the first ‘value’ Kia, Daewoo and Hyundai hatchbacks launched onto the British market. These were bereft of any kind of redeeming feature; socially inept and mechanically frightening. Many a hard-working middle-management man woke in the night in a cold sweat at the prospect of being ‘awarded’ one by the company fleet manager in an, ahem, ‘restructuring’ (= ‘cost-cutting’) exercise. Meanwhile only God could help you if your mother dropped you off at a boarding school in one.
These cars weren’t quite made out of plastic, sellotape, coat hangers, rust and sharp bits, or designed by long-term residents of a mental institution. They might as well have been, though. Their second-hand values depended primarily on how much petrol was in the tank, assuming of course that the fuel gauge was still working. There was also always a suspicion that to buy one would support dubious totalitarian political regimes. In the eyes of British buyers, these cars came from countries where they eat dogs, censor the press, imprison tourists on bum raps and solve even the smallest protest with the use of baseball bats, tear gas and machine guns.
On the scale of great embarrassments in British life, to own one of these horrors would have been right up there with owning either leprosy or a brown corduroy suit. There was no greater public symbol of pulling up lame before the first fence in both the style stakes and the rat race. To get there on time in one of these brutes, you really ought to have left yesterday. Even the ghastly Austin Maestro was better. The only cars which were worse were Ladas and that one of Fred Flintstone’s with stone wheels and no floor.
Amazingly, these weren’t even prejudices, just sad facts of life.
Twenty years on, all of that has been turned entirely on its head. A resurgent Hyundai spearheads the charge for change and produces cars which win awards, top sales charts and compete with German rivals across the board. ‘Value’ no longer just means ‘cheap’. It doesn’t half make you wonder where we’ll be in another twenty years’ time…
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