Asia Minute: BMW’s Catching Fire in South Korea

Aug 14, 2018

Credit Tony Webster / Flickr

Japanese automakers always top the charts when it comes to car sales in Hawai‘i. But in South Korea, German automakers dominate the rankings of imported cars. And in recent months there has been a dangerous trend with one of the best-selling brands.

BMW’s are catching fire in South Korea.

That’s not a cliché to say sales are “hot” — these are literal flames. More than three-dozen BMW’s have caught fire in the country this year. They’re engine fires. So far, there have been no deaths or injuries, but they have led to recalls, a lawsuit, and government warnings.

The latest flare-up came in Monday afternoon’s rush hour – when police say a fire broke out in a BMW M3 sedan northeast of Seoul. It was the 39th case of a car fire in a BMW in South Korea so far this year.

Last month, the automaker announced a voluntary recall of more than 106,000 vehicles — including 42 different kinds of models. BMW says there’s a defect in a component that’s supposed to reduce emissions from models that have diesel engines.

But Korea’s Yonhap News reports more than a quarter of the fires do not involve diesel engines.

Last week, the Chairman of BMW Korea apologized for “causing worry among people and government authorities.”

It’s not just worry, there’s also anger and questions about whether BMW should have issued the recall earlier and been more aggressive in its safety checks. More than a dozen BMW owners have filed a class action lawsuit against the automaker, and South Korea’s government is conducting its own investigation.

2015 BMW M3 F80
Credit Alexandre Prévot / Flickr

BMW is number two behind Mercedes in South Korea’s small but growing market for imported cars.