Some people might not be aware that North Korea has its own brand of automobiles! Whilst it obviously lags far behind that of a developed country, there is often a promulgated stereotype that there are very few cars in the DPRK. A look around Pyongyang would show that is a changing phenomenon. But what do they have to offer on their own terms? Whilst Kim Jong un is very well known for liking Mercedes Benz, here on the latest installment of our “made in North Korea” series, we’re going to cover the company what is described as Pyonghwa (peace) motors, a North Korean car firm that has a curious and bizarre origin.
The origin of the company’s name “Peace” or Pyonghwa holds an elaborate symbolism from the era which it emerged in. In the early 2000s, when North Korea was not sanctioned, inter-Korean economic projects gave space for South Koreans to invest in the DPRK. The most successful of these initiatives was of course the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but there was another spearheaded by the country’s Unification Church, otherwise known as “The Moonies”. The church places Korean unification as a central tenant of its theology, so inevitably was attracted to the DPRK and in 2000, decided to open up a joint venture in the form of a car company. Thus, “Pyonghwa Motors” was born. However, sanctions would eventually tighten and after 2010, South Korean President Lee Myeng Baek banned all economic activity with Pyongyang with exception to the Kaesong complex. This forced the church to relinquish its project and thus the company fell under the complete ownership of the North Korean state.
Moving on from that, what type of cars does this company produce? It should surprise nobody that the North Korean car industry is still small. The company produces about 4-5 different varieties of cars of which the designs are influenced by leading international brands, particularly from Fiat and China’s “brilliance”. This includes a supermini model known as the Hwiparam , a 4×4 called the “pronto”, a panel van known as the Bbeokgugi, a van known as the Samcheonri and an executive class car known as the Junma. These models can be found advertised on posters around Pyongyang. Reportedly, some of these models are also produced and sold in Vietnam.
Despite the South Korean origin of the brand, Pyonghwa cars are heralded as an innovative and technological achievement of North Korean industrial policy. Three Pyonghwa cars are put on display at the industry section of the Three Revolutions Exhibition. What the factory does not elaborate however, is that sales remain largely low with a total production of an estimated 400 units a year, something considerably small compared to international markets. Regardless, traffic in Pyongyang has continued to increase over time, although owning a vehicle continues to remain a special and perhaps even political privilege, than a commercial choice, in contrast to other items we have covered. Thus we end there on our coverage of North Korean cars!