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South Korea orders fire-prone BMWs off the street

Country's first driving ban will hurt automaker's ability to battle Daimler

BMWs on display at a South Korean dealership. The ban will likely hurt the automaker's standing in the country, a major market for foreign cars.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- South Korea's transport ministry said Tuesday that it will place a driving ban on over 20,000 BMWs after more than 30 engines caught fire this year from faulty hardware.

Although the ministry on Aug. 3 asked owners to refrain from driving certain models from the German automaker while they investigated the issue, it decided to impose its first-ever driving ban after more incidents occurred. The order will impact 27,246 cars that had yet to receive safety checks as of Monday, part of a recall of 106,317 vehicles across 42 models. The ban takes effect once car owners receive a notice from the ministry.

The aim is not to punish drivers but to get them to receive safety checks as soon as possible, Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said Tuesday when announcing the ban.

Although those who ignore the ban could face as much as a year in prison or a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,865), Kim indicated that lighter penalties will be imposed. If an uninspected BMW is found on the road by the police, the owner may receive a warning.

A total of 38 cars have gone up in flames this year due to faulty exhaust gas recirculation systems. BMW has said that there should be no more issues once the recall is completed. The South Korean government, however, will also follow up on suspicions that emissions testing software was tampered with.

South Korea is a major destination for imported cars with over 2 million registered foreign vehicles, according to the Korea Economic Daily, three times that of Japan when adjusted for population. Public opinion of BMW has nose-dived and the automaker will likely fall behind rivals like Mercedes-Benz manufacturer Daimler in the country.

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