Mashable |By John Power
The United States has Ford. Germany has Volkswagen. Japan has Toyota. And North Korea has Pyeonghwa Motors.
Run by Kim Jong-un‘s regime, the company produces a tiny number of vehicles at its factory in the city of Nampo, a seaport on North Korea’s west coast. At its sole dealership in the capital Pyongyang, visitors can view its lineup up close, take a test drive and even purchase spare parts.
Andray Abrahamian, research director at North Korea-focused nonprofit Choson Exchange, visited the showroom last month, and provided Mashable brochures on the current selection of 25 models:
The promotional materials list specifications such as fuel consumption and max speed for models with names such as “Cuckoo” and “Land of Korea.”
Though, despite their powerful-sounding nameplates, the cars are decidedly lacking in the horsepower department. In fact, most produce around 80 or fewer horsepower. To put that into perspective, the best-selling car in America, the Toyota Camry produces 178 horses.
What the cars lack in off the line oomph, though, they more than make up for with distinctive styling. While some look like Kia or VW rip-offs, others seem to have been conceived during a toddler’s fever dream. That grey SUV thing is especially questionable.
“If there is a parking lot with a couple dozen cars, at least a couple will be Pyonghwa,” Abrahamian says.
He says the vehicles advertised were priced at $10,000 to $30,000, and mostly appeared to be built from knock-down kits (things that are manufactured in one country but sent to another for final assembly) — in keeping with Pyeonghwa Motor’s beginnings, when its cars were known to be based on models from Fiat and Chinese carmaker Shuguang, also known as SG Automotive.
Pyeonghwa Motors, whose name is Korean for “peace,” was formed in 1999 out of a partnership between South Korea’s controversial Unification Church and Ryonbong General Corp., a corporation controlled by the North Korean government.
Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the late leader of the church, preached against communism, but saw the joint venture as a way to foster peace and reconciliation between North and South Korea, which had been locked in a tense standoff since the division of the peninsula after World War II.
In 2013, the church transferred full ownership to North Korea, following complaints about poor sales and meagre profits. Since then, information about the firm — like most things in North Korea — has been hard to come by. There’s been even less official information released from the firm, and no one who has visited has been allowed to report about its internal workings.
What is certain is that Pyeonghwa’s operations are small. Abrahamian said one staff member at the dealership told him it produced 1,600 cars last year. In 2011, the carmaker, which then had a South Korean office, reported that it made 1,450 cars that year.
Simon Cockerell, general manager of North Korea travel company Koryo Tours, said the cars make up a sizable minority of the vehicles on the country’s streets, where imports are more commonly seen.
“I would estimate around 10 to 20% of the cars in Pyongyang are Pyeonghwa vehicles,” he said. “In the other cities and countryside, it’s not as high a proportion. Overall, they are reasonably common.”
While billboards lauding the automaker are among the only advertisements in the country, most North Koreans can only dream of actually owning one of its cars. Not only does most of the population live in dire poverty, the regime heavily restricts private car ownership to a select few. Even though visitors to the capital say traffic in Pyongyang has increased considerably in recent years, vehicles still remain few and far between throughout the country.
Read the original article in Mashable
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