The first Fiat model to be launched in South Korea next year when the Italian carmaker returns after a twelve year absence will be the 500 (bottom) while Alfa Romeo will arrive in the country with a range that includes the MiTo (top).

Twelve years after it quit the South Korea, Fiat Group is preparing to return to this important Asian new car market next year with a new importer and distribution network and with both the Fiat brand and its specialist sporty division, Alfa Romeo, slated to hit the showrooms.

However the choice of distributor remains to be ironed out and although already a long way down the road with Cosmos Automobile, which has been established by a group of South Korean automobile industry veterans, especially to manage its activities, Fiat is reportedly having second thoughts and looking at another alternative. Cosmos Automobile has already started work on a five story building in the Gangnam district in the south of the capital Seoul that would be the operations headquarters, and this complex is scheduled to be completed during the early months of next year.

Pre-contracts were signed with Cosmos Automobile in June; however Fiat has reportedly put negotiations on hold as it is looking at the option of handing the contact to Chrysler Korea. Cosmos Automobile representatives have recently told the local media that Fiat has temporarily suspended the contract.

Instead Chrysler Korea has emerged as a rival candidate. Fiat took an initial 20 percent stake in Chrysler and kicked off a comprehensive alliance in the early summer after the latter emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure in the U.S. and one of the key aspects has been to look at ways to integrate worldwide distribution to assist Chrysler’s global expansion plans as its overseas exports from North America have faded to irrelevance. However South Korea is a market in which Fiat has no representation while the U.S. carmaker does sell its cars there and the idea of achieving economies of scale by integrating the two operations for this market appeals to Fiat’s management.

It is also reported in the South Korean media that Chrysler Korea, the official importer of the new Chrysler Group, has been pushing very hard to land the job of importing Fiat and Alfa Romeo models. “There’s a lot of interest in importing Fiat in the local market, where it is referred to as a golden goose,” Yoon Dae-sung, executive managing director for the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association recent told YoongAng Daily. “There will be major changes in the mid- to low-price imported vehicle division, whose price is below 50 million won,” Yoon added.

Fiat was previously represented in the South Korean market by private importer Hanbo Group before it quit in 1997. It is expected to lead out any return with the fashionable 500 model, the hugely popular Car of the Year 2008 award winner. It will come with a price tag of around 30 million won, which equates to just under US$25,000. The local market also expects the new Punto Evo, the restyled version of the Grande Punto that debuted at the Frankfurt IAA last week, to be a popular choice while for Alfa Romeo the MiTo and Milano (which is set to replace the C-segment Alfa 147 early next year) are all firm picks in the 40 million won price bracket.

© 2009 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed