SEOUL, April 3 (Korea Bizwire) – Sales of imported vehicles in South Korea rose 12 percent in March from a year earlier, while Japanese brands continued to struggle with weaker demand due to trade tensions with Seoul, an industry association said Friday.
The number of newly registered foreign vehicles rose to 20,304 units last month from 18,078 a year earlier, the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA) said in a statement.
“New models and marketing activities by brands like Audi and Volkswagen helped boost the monthly sales. German brands posted robust sales, but Japanese brands continued to suffer a decline in sales,” KAIDA spokeswoman Park Eun-seok said in a statement.
Looking ahead, Park expects the spreading coronavirus outbreak to weigh on vehicle sales, as people increasingly opt not to visit dealerships.
Imported brands accounted for 17.68 percent of South Korea’s passenger vehicle market in February, up from 15.88 percent a year ago. Their market share for March will be available in late April, she said.
The three bestselling models were the Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI sport utility vehicle, BMW’s 520 sedan and Mercedes-Benz’s E 300 4MATIC sedan, the statement said.
German brands — Audi-Volkswagen Korea, BMW Group Korea and Mercedes-Benz Korea — sold a combined 13,146 vehicles last month, jumping 55 percent from 8,496 a year ago, it said.
In contrast, Japanese carmakers saw their sales plunge 68 percent to 1,406 units in South Korea last month from 4,360 a year ago, as the two countries are still at odds over Tokyo’s imposition of export curbs last year.
Five Japanese brands are available in the Korean passenger vehicle market — Toyota Motor Corp. and its luxury brand Lexus; Honda Motor Co.; and Nissan Motor Co. and its premium brand Infiniti.
Last July, Japan tightened regulations on exports to South Korea of three high-tech materials critical for the production of semiconductors and displays.
In August, Japan also removed South Korea from its list of countries given preferential treatment in trade procedures.
South Korea views the moves as retaliation against 2018 Supreme Court rulings here ordering Japanese firms to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
From January to March, foreign carmakers sold a total of 54,669 units, up 4.8 percent from 52,161 in the same period of last year, it said.