How One Small Car Helped Save South Korea

If you would have seen a Hyundai Pony driving down the streets of Seoul, South Korea, in the early 1980s, you probably wouldn’t have looked twice. Packing a mere 1.2-liter engine, the subcompact car was perhaps best for getting drivers from Point A to Point B with little fanfare. However, at the time, it was anything but ordinary for most South Koreans. Before K-pop, cellphones and flat-screen TVs, there was the Hyundai Pony. Unbearably boxy by modern standards, the automobile in many ways heralded South Korea’s emergence onto the car industry’s world stage. While it wasn’t much to look at, the Pony was the first Korean-made car the country ever exported, laying the groundwork for an automotive industry that would later help transform the South Korean economy into one of the world’s biggest. In 1986, the Hyundai Pony came to the United States. The base price was $4,995. Let that sink in for a minute. The average price for a compact car in 1986 was $10,439. To say the Pony was a steal is an understatement. Hyundai’s astounding rise prompted Ford and GM to file a “dumping complaint” in 1987, alleging Hyundai was selling its cars for less than it cost to manufacture them. Although Hyundai won the case in March 1988, the damage had been done. Today, it’s rare to see a Pony on the streets of the U.S. As for South Korea, they’re busy promoting their Heritage Series Pony concept, an electric vehicle design.