South Korea to ban about 20,000 BMW vehicles after engine fires

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's transport ministry said on Tuesday it would ban some 20,000 BMW BMWG.DE vehicles from the streets amid mounting public fears about engine fires.

The driving ban comes after 27 engines went up in flames between January and July, which prompted BMW’s Korea unit to apologize last week and a recall of 106,000 diesel vehicles including the 520d from Aug. 20.

Amid public concerns over safety the government order will affect about 20,000 BMW cars that are part of the recall but yet to receive safety checks, according to the transport ministry.

“I am asking owners of the BMW cars subject to the recall to actively cooperate to prevent bigger accidents, despite your inconvenience,” Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee told a press conference.

Those who own the affected vehicles, however, can drive for safety checks, the ministry said, adding that the ban is intended for quicker safety checks rather than punitive action against the owners.

Officials at the German automaker identified the root cause as defects in the exhaust gas recirculation system, while the South Korean government is conducting a separate probe into the case and planning to take legal action if necessary.

The order would be effective as soon as owners of the affected cars receive a mail notice, as early as Aug. 15, the transport minister said.

BMW, which trails only Mercedes in imported car sales in South Korea, saw sales more than double to 59,624 vehicles last year, from five years ago.

South Korea is a relatively small market, ranking eleventh in global auto sales, but is a major market for lucrative, premium vehicles and is currently dominated by Hyundai Motor 005380.KS and Kia Motors 000270.KS.

Reporting by Haejin Choi, editing by Ju-min Park and Sunil Nair