Young Pioneer Tours

North Korean Cars — made in the DPRK

Continuing our ‘Made in the DPRK’ series, North Korean cars! – having previously featured such gems as the Arirang smartphone, the Samjiyon tablet and the Red Star OS – we continue our look at the homegrown products of North Korea with the automotive industry of the DPRK.

The punchline of the Eastern Bloc

Automobiles produced in socialist countries have always been a bit of a punchline. “Do you have a radio for a Trabant?” starts an old East Germany gag; “Sounds like a fair swap,” comes the devastating comeback. Trabants, Skodas, Ladas – all products of the Eastern Bloc automotive industry, and all with pretty bad reputations.

South Korean cars obviously have quite a good reputation – Hyundai and Daewoo being two reputable car manufacturers that spring to mind – but whilst their Northern counterparts have hardly set the world on fire, the country’s Juche ideology, which is all about self-reliance, means that the DPRK has been manufacturing its own vehicles since the get-go.

North Korean cars driving through Pyongyang
North Korean cars

This doesn’t mean that they were manufactured completely independently, however; in the beginning the vehicles were produced in partnership, and licensed by, the USSR. Such gems as the GAZ-51, GAZ-69 and GAZ-M20 were produced locally in the DPRK under this partnership.

From 1950-2000 these cars were built in the Sungri Motor Plant, but from 2000 on, the automotive industry in North Korea was to receive an unexpected boost.

North Korean cars – Pyeonghwa Motors

Founded in 2000, Pyeonghwa Motors in Nampo is an auto-manufacturing and retail joint venture between South Korea’s Pyeonghwa Motors (owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church) and North Korea’s Ryonbong General Corp. In case you’re out of the loop, the late Reverend Moon was simultaneously leader of the World Anti-Communist League and an investor in North Korea (for instance, he invested in the Pothonggang Hotel)

Most of the cars produced in Nampo are sold as cheaper alternatives to expensive foreign cars, and despite the limited market, the company has reported a profit.

The Pyeonghwa-Ryonbong partnership has even made the international jump, and the vehicles it produces are now sold in Vietnam! Interestingly enough, the only ‘private’ advertisement to be seen in Pyongyang is for the ‘Peace Car’ and its extremely congruous dove logo.

Other North Korean Automotive Vehicles

But of course North Korean vehicles are not just limited to cars, something you see at the Three Revolutions exhibit. These of course include military vehicles, but also others that might suprise you.

In fact not only has North Korea produced its own farming equipment, but the DPRK makes trains, as well as their own Subway Cars for the ~Pyongyang Metro.

Can you buy North Korean cars?

North Korean cars might never take over the world, but if sanctions are ever relaxed then this is one ‘Made in the DPRK’ product that might make it further afield, with that certainly being the initial plan.

And it is not as crazy as it sounds, China have made a great industry through a highly skilled labour force, but low wages, something North Korea could replicate.

What cars do you see in North Korea?

You actually see a huge amount of different cars being driven in North Korea, with many having their own very unique stories, such as the fleet of Volvo’s that were described as the the “biggest auto theft in history”.

There are also many older Russian and newer Chinese cars, the situation regarding North Korean cars in part at least being linked to political alliances and the foreign relations of the country.

And what do the number plates mean on North Korean cars?

We have actually already covered this in a very long and informative article, but for all intents you can quite literally see from the number plates in North Korea is a car is state-owned, army owned, private, diplomatic, or even a gift to a sports star.

Check out North Korean cars for yourself on one of our tours!

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