TOKYO -- Their names were all but unknown outside South Korea a mere half decade ago: Hyundai Mobis, LG Chem, Mando, Halla Climate Control, Hankook Tire.
But today these and other South Korean auto suppliers have stormed the global stage on the coattails of the Hyundai-Kia juggernaut -- and suddenly, they are in top demand by carmakers worldwide.
Gone is their reputation as purveyors of cheap, low-quality goods.
Now they are winning customers from Tokyo to Wolfsburg and Detroit with increasingly high-tech, yet cost-competitive, products. Look no further than the LG Chem-supplied lithium ion batteries for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid for a sense of the inroads they have made.
Numbers tell the tale: South Korea's auto parts exports have nearly quadrupled since 2004, when South Korean suppliers shipped only $5.9 billion in parts overseas.
The exports are expected to increase another 10 percent this year to $25.5 billion, says Kim Young-hoon, export manager at the Korean Auto Industries Co-op Association, the suppliers' trade group.
"Korean auto parts have been achieving great results due to their competitiveness regarding high technology, quality, low price and marketing," Kim says.
Capitalizing on lower labor costs, South Korean suppliers can undercut rivals in the United States, Europe and Japan. They also get a tail wind from exchange rates that encourage exports, while Japanese rivals struggle with the yen's surge against the dollar and euro.
South Korean parts cost about 25 percent less than comparable Japanese parts, according the Korea Automotive Research Institute, a unit of Hyundai Motor Group. And while the same study found South Korean companies still lag Japanese rivals in production technique, quality and design, those gaps are rapidly narrowing.