Korean Anti-(Crappy)Car Websites Pressured to Shut Down

Kim Ki-tae a Staff Reporter for the Korean Times reported that, The number of automobile consumer complaint homepages has been on a downturn trend apparently due to the pressure and lobby by car makers.

One of the most popular ``anti-Web sites, www.anticar.co.kr, was shut down recently.

The site was a vanguard of consumer rights against car defects. It had maintained a separate bulletin board for each of the four local automakers to channel customers grievances to the companies.

On the Internet site, netizens could also upload their complaints and send documents to carmakers requesting a vehicle recall.

Another site www.antikia.co.kr has disappeared from the Web after actively campaigning for better vehicle quality. The site had drawn some 100,000 members since its launch in August 1999. Visitors to the site had uploaded complaints and related photos to demand car makers¡¯ response and rectify the problem.

``The complaint sites have sprung up in line with rising awareness of consumer rights since 1999, but most of them have slowly disappeared over the last several months, said Kim Jong-hoon, an official at the Customer Protection Board.

``As far as I know, some carmakers, wary of their corporate image, lobbied to close or change the nature of those sites, said Kim, adding that it is not necessarily applicable to the above two cases.

Another market watcher confirmed the existence of hidden pressure from carmakers on managers of those Web sites.

``A carmaker urged one of managers to close a site, saying that otherwise the carmaker would sue him for libel. Sometimes the company offered ``carrots,promising financial support if the webmaster changed the nature of the site from one for serious grievances to just an online community of people driving the same model of car, said the insider, who is involved with one such site.

He said ``As long as I know, one site still active is under pressure, and I don¡¯t think other websites are free from such intervention.

The source alleged that it is an open secret that one carmaker went so far as to offer a car for nothing to a manager of an Internet complaint site.

Industry analysts expressed regret over the disappearance of customer sites, as they have sometimes been able to leverage a boost in product quality by providing feedback to manufacturers.

Despite the alleged pressure by some carmakers, there still remain a few homepages active.

One of those, www.antihyundai.co.kr, which went online in February 2000, has contributed to a more productive producer-customer relationship.

``The automaker has responded to the netizens¡¯ complaints, correcting defects and replacing the problematic components, even though there is still a long way to go to achieve better customer service,¡¯¡¯ said a netizen in the site.

Hyundai replaced the ignition coil in a sport utility vehicle Trajet in response to drivers¡¯ requests on the site, and also installed an auxiliary tank for the SUV¡¯s radiator.

Another site, www.anticarens.co.kr, also successfully persuaded Kia Motors to recall its Carens model that was vulnerable to sudden stalling.

``Customers complaints on those sites have had a far-reaching effect on the automakers¡¯ brand images. So companies are very careful when handling the requests,¡¯¡¯ said an official at a local automaker.

kt-kim@koreatimes.co.kr

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