South Korea’s automotive sales have been released by the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association, and they’re instructive. Japanese companies have lost considerable market share, both in gross sales and as a percentage of the market. The losses can be traced to the continued social and economic conflicts between the allied countries, but the losses by Japan have created opportunities for other nations.
The United States is not one of those nations.
Historically, the United States has had difficulty gaining a strong foothold in the South Korean market, and there are a few reasons. American cars tend to be expensive, they tend to be large (which can lead to difficulties with parking and narrow streets) and their safety protocols tend to be different.
Safety in most countries is directed toward protecting a pedestrian in a potential conflict. Most cars are designed to present minimal damage for a low-speed collision, including using materials which will crumple under small impacts. American cars are designed with withstand small impacts with little damage, which leads to a sturdier design but one which is more dangerous for pedestrians.
Nevertheless, American auto sales have maintained a small but consistent presence in the South Korean market for more than a decade. That number was predicted to increase by the Trump administration following the revised trade deal. Auto sales were a key sticking point for the negotiations, and forcing the cap of allowable yearly sales higher was a prominent demand of the Trump negotiating team. There’s even a section devoted to that, “Increasing U.S. Auto Exports and Growing U.S. Auto Jobs Through the U.S. South Korea Trade Agreement“, on the web site of the Office of the US Trade Representative
That cap was raised, but the raw numbers for sales tell a different story. Despite Japan’s losses, American sales have dropped as well, with the gaps being overwhelmingly filled by European cars.
While broad moves are being seen throughout the world, small indications of American trade and military policy are being made available. Those indications have been overwhelmingly negative for the United States, whether they’re associated with China’s military aggression or Russia’s encroachment into Africa, the loss of influence in South America or the fraying of alliances with Canada and European nations. The car sales of South Korea are an excellent yardstick by which to measure actual results of Trump’s policy against the promises. The results are terrible.