Yun-Hyung Jung, automotive and mobility specialist at our Korea office, talks about the potential that western tech firms have within Korea's autonomous vehicles market.
South Korea is renowned as the home of Hyundai and Kia and as the fifth largest global automotive producer. It’s no secret that it had fallen slightly behind in autonomous vehicle (AV) development compared with the US and some European countries. But it’s catching up fast now – and offers western tech firms plenty of opportunities to play a part in its nascent AV industry.
Government & private investment
Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transport (MOLIT) sees AVs as an engine of growth for its mobility industry. By 2030, the Korean AV sector is expected to have expanded tenfold and to run at a 34% annual growth rate.
To boost its AV market, the Korean government plans to invest $1 billion into the ecosystem by 2027 and has revealed its long-term goal of having at least half of domestically built vehicles at Level 5 by 2035 – with foreign components welcomed to help achieve this goal.
This may all sound ambitious, but the roadmap is achievable when you consider where Korea is heading. AV development is being driven by both a) outbound investments in global technology startups by major players including Hyundai, Kakao Mobility and Naver Labs, and b) continuous inhouse R&D and international collaboration by tier-1s such as Hyundai Mobis, LG Innotek, Mando and Samsung Electro-Mechanics.
Meanwhile, law makers are relaxing regulations, allowing more cities to test AVs, introducing revised safety standards and overhauling insurance policy rules.
Opportunities in L3 and L4 developments
Hyundai and Kia have announced comprehensive Level 3 AV commercialisation plans for their upcoming G90 and EV9 models, whose new tech will have a big impact on the global vehicle industry.
The G90, for example, will be equipped with Autonomous Valet Parking (AVP), and Hyundai is targeting global sales of 20,000 units. And advanced, user-friendly sensor calibration and annotation tools, as well as data security systems, are much-needed for Level 3 enhancements.
Development is also under way for Level 4 vehicles. And for this, Hyundai and tier-1s are on the lookout for the best hardware and software internationally for teleoperation, sensor fusion, V2X, sensor development, AV/ADAS simulation, annotation, data security, embedded control, safety related HMI, odometry sensors and more.
In addition, Korea’s leading ride hailing software company, Kakao Mobility, has dived into the AV field, partnering with Hyundai and aiming to become the number one AV taxi service in the country.
Because it’s a young business with a less conservative mindset than the OEMs, if you have the right technology to enhance its AV full stack development, it’s a great prospect to target.
Data for autonomous enhancement
AV data collection is another core area of opportunity for western firms.
Korea is extremely well connected. The country has the world’s most extensive 4G network and is now one of the global leaders in 5G connectivity. The government is building an AV landscape around this and looking to V2X technology to connect all vehicles on the road, so they’ll operate safely.
Currently, there are 14 AV testbeds across the country to help make this a reality. For example, Hwasung City has a simulation site mimicking roads, buildings, vegetation, toll gates and traffic lights, allowing AVs to gather ground truth data for highway scenarios as well as for compact city roads. But environments like this have their limitations in improving AV safety because they lack real road data of unexpected scenarios.
Korean players are seeking solutions to this, so western companies with software-in-the-loop technologies to provide raw synthetic data and perception software such as annotation tools to label, categorise and manage the data may well find a sweet spot in the market.
In fact, many industry leaders in Korea are striving to achieve a radically better environment for data collection to compete with companies such as Waymo, which are amassing data on a vast scale and in diverse settings, including edge-case scenarios. Waymo alone had conducted 32 million km of test driving as of 2020, compared with Korea’s 720,000 km.
In short, Korea needs data – lots of it - and, for this, needs external input.
This is why, for example, Hyundai Motors has joined forces with Irish automotive part supplier Aptiv and established AV company Motional for joint development and testing in the US – so they can apply what they learn to their upcoming models.
So, Korea is accelerating AV development, with a vision to bring Level 3 AVs onto the streets within a year, and Level 4 in the next five years.
Yes, major Korean OEMs are being cautious in releasing AVs. But, at the same time, they’re willing to take calculated risks to become the frontrunners in releasing fully Level 3-equipped vehicles as soon as the government certifies them, before rolling out further advances from there. And, to achieve these goals, they clearly need outside help.
This presents huge opportunities for western firms – as long as you take the right approach.
Amongst the essential criteria for succeeding in Korea, understanding the complex AV ecosystem and getting to grips with Korean business culture are paramount, while having a team on the ground will boost your prospects, especially with the OEMs.
All these issues are addressable. And, if you have software or hardware technologies that can help move the Korean AV industry forward, it’s a great market to target right now.
To discuss the prospects for your automotive tech business in Korea, you can reach Yun at firstname.lastname@example.org