Resurgence of Japanese Hybrids Leads Sales Surge in South Korea's Imported Car Market | Be Korea-savvy

Resurgence of Japanese Hybrids Leads Sales Surge in South Korea’s Imported Car Market

Toyota's Prius PHV (Image courtesy of Yonhap)

Toyota’s Prius PHV (Image courtesy of Yonhap)

SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Korea Bizwire) – The overall sales of imported passenger cars in South Korea declined in the third quarter of this year compared to last year. However, amidst this trend, sales of Japanese hybrid cars have seen a notable surge.

Following a dip in the popularity of Japanese cars during the 2019 “No Japan” boycott, the market has rebounded swiftly in 2023, primarily driven by the increasing demand for hybrid vehicles. 

According to recent registration data from the Korea Association of Imported Automobile Manufacturers (KAIDA), Japanese brands constituted 8.6 percent of all imported passenger car sales in South Korea from January to October. This marks a significant increase of 2.6 percentage points from the 6 percent share observed during the same period last year and is the highest since the 15 percent recorded in 2019. 

The total number of Japanese cars sold has risen by 35.7 percent year-on-year, reaching 18,822 units. Leading this resurgence are Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus. 

Lexus, in particular, achieved robust sales of 11,800 units in the first 10 months of the year, reflecting a remarkable 93 percent increase compared to the corresponding period last year, effectively doubling its sales. The ES300h, Lexus’ midsize hybrid sedan, witnessed an 86 percent surge year-over-year, with 6,616 units sold. 

Toyota also contributed to this positive trend, selling 6,767 units, reflecting a 26.4 percent increase. Notably, Toyota has already surpassed its annual sales figures from last year, and it is anticipated that this year’s total sales will exceed 7,000 units for the first time since 2019. 

While sales of the Camry Hybrid, Toyota’s flagship midsize sedan, remained below 2,000 units, the RAV4 Hybrid (a midsize sport utility vehicle) and Sienna Hybrid (a minivan) drove substantial gains.

Despite an overall 3 percent decline in total passenger car sales in South Korea compared to last year, the notable gains by Japanese brands, particularly in the hybrid segment, are evident. However, there is speculation that Japanese automakers, renowned for their strength in hybrid vehicles, may face increased competition from the rising popularity of German imports, especially electric vehicles.

Kevin Lee ( 

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