North Korean authorities continue to highlight the achievement of the country’s economic goals, but the lack of raw materials is causing serious disruptions to production in the country’s industries. North Korea’s vehicle manufacturing industry in particular is facing a severe lack of new rubber tires.

“The Sungri Motor Complex has no more rubber tires, so it has been unable to ship out five-ton trucks it produced during the 80-day battle period,” a source in the country told Daily NK on Friday. “They have chassis, but there’s no tires to move them out [of the factory].”

One of North Korea’s most prominent vehicle production centers, the Sungri Motor Complex is located in the city of Dokchon and mainly produces trucks. The trucks produced at the plant are not developed and assembled by North Korea alone; rather, parts are imported from China and elsewhere for reassembly.

Up until 2018, members of North Korea’s leadership, including Chae Ryong Hae and Pak Bong Ju, were seen conducting on-the-spot visits to the vehicle plant to encourage production activities.

In 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the vehicle factory to test drive a newly-built five-ton truck and commented, “The sound of the engine is steady, it shifts gears well, and its engine is truly excellent.”

North Korean delivery truck vehicle
A North Korean truck drives along the bank of the Yalu River in North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

During his 2018 New Year’s Address, Kim noted that “[t]he machine-building industry should modernize the Kumsong Tractor Factory, Sungni Motor Complex and other factories to develop and produce world-level machinery in our style.”

Following the failure of denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea and the prolonging of sanctions on the country – not to mention the closure of the border due to COVID-19 – North Korea has been unable to import enough raw materials and parts needed for its vehicle manufacturing industry.

Despite the closure of the border, the country has been able to import small amounts of machinery parts and rubber tires needed for vehicle production; however, Daily NK understands that most of these items go to vehicles ordered by the country’s important organizations, such as the communist party’s Central Committee and military.

This has led to a situation where vehicles ordered by these organizations are shipped out with new tires, but vehicles purchased by ordinary enterprises or other business entities are simply fitted with used tires so they can be rolled off the production site.

Some North Koreans are complaining that fitting new vehicles with used tires is a far cry from the “self-reliance” called for by the government.

North Korea is facing difficulties importing not just rubber tires but also rubber itself, so even shoe factories – which require rubber for their production processes – are facing production difficulties.

“[North Korea] can’t expand its manufacturing production activities without imports of raw materials,” the source said, adding, “Business people are waiting for the quick restart of trade so, at the very least, they can meet their economic [production] goals.”

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to