Hyundai's New Micro SUV Powered by Gwangju Job Plan

Public-private partnership for job creation enabled an absurdly cheap and popular car.

Hyundai's New Micro SUV Powered by Gwangju Job Plan

Photo: Ceremony for the first unit of Casper.  Credit: Facebook page of Lee Yong-seob.

The latest model from Hyundai Motors 현대자동차 is Casper 캐스퍼, a smartly designed and absurdly cheap micro SUV - starting at below KRW 13.9m (USD 11.9k), top-line equipped at KRW 19.6m (USD 16k). Available exclusively in South Korea and India, the new model was met with rave reviews: nearly 19k pre-orders on the first day, a record for Hyundai’s gasoline cars. (The overall record holder is Ioniq 5, an electric vehicle. See previous coverage, “EV Popularity Leaves Workers Shaking.”) Among the new buyers is President Moon Jae-in 문재인, who braved Casper’s online-only sales portal to reserve the car on September 14.

The presidential attention to Casper is not just about enthusiasm for a small car. Casper is the first model to come out of the Gwangju Job Plan 광주형 일자리, a new job creation scheme by the Moon administration. Modeled after a job sharing plan in the auto industry in Stuttgart, Germany, the Gwangju Job Plan attracted the auto industry - which was located largely in other Korean cities like Ulsan 울산 - by promising wages at half the usual rate. The plan established a joint venture between the city of Gwangju and Hyundai Motors, called Gwangju Global Motors, which is outside of the collective bargaining agreement governing Hyundai Motors’ labor union (and thus allowing low wages). To make up for the low wages, the city of Gwangju subsidizes the workers with living expenses, such as housing, childcare, and medical expenses.

The first Casper unit rolled out two years and nine months after the factory in Gwangju broke ground. Gwangju Global Motors has over 500 employees, 90% of whom are from the Gwangju area - incentivizing the local population to stay in their hometown rather than continue streaming into Seoul in search of jobs. With the success of Gwangju Job Plan, other cities are following suit: Gunsan, Jeollabuk-do Province 전라북도 군산 with electric vehicles, Gumi, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province 경상북도 구미 with EV batteries, and Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do Province 경상남도 밀양 with metal casting.

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