BMW Korea chairman Kim Hyo-jun offered an apology to the public for a series of accidents where some 30 BMW cars burst into flames one after another while running on the road. However, public uproars over the accidents are continuing without showing any signs of subsiding. Some outraged consumers filed a lawsuit against BMW. These accidents are expected to strike a serious blow to BMW which has enjoyed strong sales in Korea thanks to its high quality.
Kim held an emergency press conference at the Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul on August 6, 12 days after the company announced a voluntary recall of more than 100,000 BMW vehicles on July 26. Some BMW executives flew into Korea from Germany and attended the press conference.
Although the chairman apologized for the fiasco, public anger has not been subdued. The Korea Consumers' Association said on the same day that it would bring a lawsuit against BMW for the first time regarding BMW car fire cases by forming a lawsuit support group for owners of fire-prone BMW vehicles. The support team consisted of a technical support team and a legal support team, with the former comprised of 30 automotive engineering professors, automotive master craftsmen, professional auto engineers, master mechanics, car mechanics, while the latter consisting of insurance claim lawyers. Currently, they are proceeding the lawsuit with about 100 members of an internet BMW owner club. For two weeks from August 13, they will recruit additional customers who want to participate in the lawsuit.
Currently, BMW Korea is making a recall of about 106,000 vehicles. As a result, the number of litigation participants may shoot up exponentially in the future.
Earlier, on August 3, 13 BMW car owners filed a lawsuit for damages against BMW Korea and five BMW dealers (Dongsung Motors, Handok Motors, Deutsche Motors, Kolon Global and National Motors) in the Seoul Central District Court. This was the second lawsuit following the first one filed by four BMW car owners on July 30 with respect to the recall.
They did not directly suffer from fires on their BMW vehicles but they are claiming that BMW has to pay for their financial and mental damages caused by the unavailability of their BMW cars. In addition, 7,000 people signed up for Naver BMW Fire Victims Class Action Café on the internet jointly opened by Seong Seung-hwan, a lawyer of law firm Ingang and Jung Keun-kyu, a lawyer of law firm Boin as of the morning of the day.
This year, a whopping 32 fire accidents involving BMW cars have been reported to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport up to the present. In January, three case were reported. Two cases, one case, five cases and five cases were reported in February, March, April and May, respectively. The number surged to 12 in July. In August, four cases were reported until the fourth –- one case per day. Among the vehicles which caught fires, BMW 520d cars overwhelmingly outnumbered other BMW models by reaching 19.
The BMW 520d is one of the most popular cars in Korea. It ranked first in the import car sales standings for the second consecutive year. It is a flagship model of BMW with a history of more than 100 years, and gained in great popularity through big sales promotions in the Korean market.
Meanwhile, according to the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association, sales of the diesel 520d sedan fell sharply among BMW models. The model became notorious as the model recorded the largest number of fires recently. The official announcement of the recall was put out on July 26, but news about fires on the model that had been reported since before July froze consumer sentiment a great deal, according to some experts.
The 520d has maintained its high ranking in import car sales this year. The model ranked second in January (850 units were sold), February (687 units), March (1,610 units), and April (1,357 units). The model placed first in May but was pulled down to second place (963 units) by the Volkswagen Tiguan in June. In July, however, its sales figure fell short of 600 units and was relegated to fifth place.
Although the 520d posted sluggish sales, the 520i, the basic model of the 5 Series, sold 448 units and ranked seventh in the best-selling car standings. However, there is a report on a fire on BMW gasoline cars, so many experts say that the 520i will face many uncertainties in its sales in the future.