BMW sees its EVs as key to South Korea

BMW's new EVs could give it a leg up in Korea.

A free trade agreement between South Korea and the European Union that began last year has already been beneficial to German automaker BMW, but the brand really sees its future EV lineup as its first true breakthrough into the Asian nation.

Last year's free trade deal saw a significant lowering of tariffs on vehicles imported to South Korea from Germany, and BMW's sales are up nearly 20 percent through the first four months of the year as a result.

But it's the company's two EVs - the i3 city car and i8 supercar - that the company thinks will really make inroads into South Korea.

Both BMW EVs hit the market next year, which means they will coincide with domestic titans Hyundai and Kia's efforts. Hyundai plans a compact EV for 2014, while Kia's urban-oriented Ray EV is a little less than a year out.

BMW and Hyundai/Kia are gearing up to be the primary EV competitors in Korea. While General Motors has a large presence in Korea, it currently has no specific EV plans for the market and Japan's Nissan and Toyota are focusing their EV efforts on Europe and North America.

BMW says that EV success in the market hinges on the Korean government's planned roll-out of 150,000 charging stations across the country by 2016.

"The biggest hurdle is lack of the charging infrastructure for electric cars, so we will continue to ask the government to make charging stations ready as announced," a BMW Korea spokesman said in an interview with Korea Real Time.