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Unsung Seoul show still draws foreign brands

SEOUL, South Korea -- The unsung Seoul motor show still ranks behind rival regional shows in China and Tokyo in terms of prestige and history.

But the South Korean auto show -- in operation every other year only since 1995 -- has at least eclipsed Tokyo in drawing overseas carmakers.

A tour around the compact, easily navigated and modern Kintex exhibition center, where this year’s show is being held today through April 10, turns up 17 foreign brands.

That includes the Detroit 3, with General Motors having a stand rivaling hometown giant Hyundai’s in size. GM splurged this year to reinforce this month’s launch of the Chevrolet brand here -- which will now replace GM Daewoo as the main GM brand.

In 2009, the last year the Tokyo show was held, that event drew only two minor foreign carmakers: Germany’s Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen and British sports car maker Lotus.

The next Tokyo motor show begins Nov. 30.

While Chrysler and GM have already bowed out, the show’s organizer says the major German automakers have pledged to return. Organizers have yet to announce the final exhibitor count.

Tokyo has had trouble gaining traction amid perennially tumbling domestic sales.

But Seoul maintains a vibrant buzz, thanks to expanding domestic sales and increased global interest in the local favorite sons, Hyundai and Kia.

The relatively recent opening of the domestic market to overseas brands also helps.

Import sales to South Korea have climbed every year since 2005, except for a dip in 2009. And Europeans, Americans and Japanese alike all want a share of the growing pie.

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