Companies and Brands

The 4 Korean Car Brands You Should Not Avoid

ioniq | Hyundai IONIQ
Hyundai IONIQ by JayUny / BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

When it comes to Korean auto manufacturers, there are really only two names in the game. Between them, Hyundai and Kia own that market. Note also that Hyundai is Kia’s largest and controlling shareholder, while Kia has stakes in some Hyundai subsidiaries. Hyundai also owns the Genesis and Ioniq brands, which primarily offer luxury and electric vehicles, respectively.

As far as avoiding other brands, it isn’t difficult. Besides the big two, another option is KG Mobility, or KGM, which has about 4% of its home market. North America is not one of its markets. Formerly known as SsangYong, the company has changed owners several times since it was established in 1954, and now focuses on electric vehicles. It only recently became profitable again after many years. In addition, it reportedly doesn’t own its own brand name in some countries due to a trademark troll.

Korean carmaker Daewoo went bankrupt in 1999 and was swallowed up by GM Korea. Renault also has a Korean arm, but these two companies focus on vehicles for the Korean market. Then there is Pyeonghwa Motors, but it is North Korean and produces very few automobiles.

Why Buy a Korean Car?

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Are Korean cars a good value?

The short answer is that doing so can be good for the pocketbook. Korean cars are often more affordable than others in the same class. But that does not necessarily mean it comes at the expense of quality. Hyundai and Kia have bolstered their reputations over the past two decades for offering vehicles that are durable and reliable. They offer a wide range of vehicles to suit the diverse needs of consumers. Plus, unlike cars from some other makers, Korean vehicles are less likely to lose value in resale because they sell fast and are always in demand. (See which new SUVs are the most fuel-efficient.)

With that in mind, here are the four Korean car brands worth a look now.

Hyundai

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Korea’s biggest automaker.
  • Founded: December 1967
  • Headquarters: Seoul
  • Makes: Sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs, vans, pickups, heavy trucks, buses, tanks, railway cars, industrial equipment
  • Market Share: About 44%
  • Parent: Hyundai Motor Group
  • Website: Hyundai USA

From a Pony to a World-Class Brand

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A world-class brand.

The first South Korean car, the Hyundai Pony, was released in 1975. The company began to sell automobiles in Canada in 1984 and the United States two years later. Known at first for its affordable, low-quality offerings, by 2004 it had established itself as a world-class brand.

Among its most popular products currently offered in the United States are the Santa Fe midsized SUV, the Tucson crossover, and the Elantra compact sedan. U.S. News and World Report named the Tucson as 2024’s best compact SUV for the money. Hyundai sold nearly 801,200 vehicles in the United States last year, which was an 11% increase year over year and the highest total sales ever for the Hyundai brand.

Ioniq

Source: Hyundai IONIQ Electric Car - EV - Charing - Free Car Picture - Give Credit Via Link by MotorVerso / BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
A top electric vehicle brand.
  • Founded: August 2020
  • Headquarters: Seoul
  • Makes: Electric vehicles
  • Parent: Hyundai Motors
  • Website: Ioniq

Shooting for a Million

Source: Hyundai IONIQ Electric Blazing Yellow by JayUny / BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
A million per year?

The initial Hyundai Ioniq model, a hybrid intended to compete with the Toyota Prius, was launched in 2016. Four years later, the company launched Ioniq as its own brand, reserved for electric cars.

Ioniq’s first vehicle was the Ioniq 5, a compact crossover vehicle. The Ioniq 6, a midsize sedan, followed, and then the Ioniq 9 midsize SUV. The 2025 Ioniq 5 was named the top electric SUV by Car and Driver. Hyundai says it aims to sell a million electric vehicle sales annually by 2025. U.S. sales of the Ioniq brand totaled nearly 47,000 in 2023, a record, as well as almost a 6% share of Hyundai’s total sales.

Genesis

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A top luxury car brand.
  • Founded: November 2015
  • Headquarters: Seoul
  • Makes: Luxury vehicles
  • Parent: Hyundai Motors
  • Website: Genesis

Precision Engineering and Sophistication

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A 10 out of 10.

The first Hyundai Genesis model was introduced at the 2008 North American International Auto Show. Genesis became a stand-alone brand in 2015, and a year later the brand’s G80 and G90 models rolled out in the United States.

The G80 executive sedan remains its most successful model worldwide. The brand’s GV80, its first SUV, is also quite popular. The latest model year GV80 received a 10 out 10 rating from Car and Driver. Around 69,200 Genesis vehicles were sold in the United States last year, over 22% more than in the prior year.

Kia

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Korea’s oldest automaker.
  • Founded: June 1944
  • Headquarters: Seoul
  • Makes: Automobiles and commercial vehicles
  • Market Share: About 40%
  • Parent: Hyundai Motors
  • Website: Kia

Korea’s Oldest Carmaker

Source: Damian B Oh / Wikimedia Commons
Still operates independently.

Kia was originally a producer of bicycle parts and steel tubing. It started producing automobiles in 1974. The first Kia-branded vehicles in the United States were sold in 1993. After Kia’s bankruptcy in 1997, Hyundai acquired a controlling stake, but Kia continues to operate independently.

The Kia Sportage, a compact crossover, was the most popular model in January, with sales of more than 15,200 units, up 17% year over year. The Forte and Sorento, a sedan and a crossover, are also top sellers. Total U.S. sales for 2023 came to over 782,400. That was up over 13% year over year. Car and Driver gives the 2025 Kia K5 a 9 out of 10 rating, while the Sorento rates an 8.

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