U.S. gobbling up 1/4 of car exports

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U.S. gobbling up 1/4 of car exports

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The United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the top three importers of Korean automobiles, according to data from the Korean Automobile Manufacturers Association (Kama).

Korean automakers sent 509,330 vehicles to the U.S. in the first nine months of this year, followed by 154,782 to Russia and 134,381 to Saudi Arabia, the data showed yesterday.

The shipments to the U.S. were worth $7.72 billion, making up almost one-quarter or 24.1 percent of the nation’s total car exports in the January-September period.

Even though Korea’s top two automakers, Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, have a combined capacity of 300,000 units a year at their U.S. plants, this was not enough to meet demand for popular models such as the Accent, a subcompact, and Soul, a compact-sized hatchback, Kama said.

The Hyundai Motor Group affiliates been profiting from robust sales in the United States, with Hyundai offloading a total of 539,814 vehicles there in the first nine months, a 9.5 percent increase from the corresponding period in 2011. Kia sold 434,914 units, up 18.4 percent.

Kama said exports to Russia have spiked in the last decade, from 4,632 in 2002 to more than 30-fold that number this year.

Hyundai has a factory in St. Petersburg with an annual capacity of 150,000 units, but popular demand for its Solaris (known as the Avante in Korea) and other models has spurred Russia-bound exports, Kama said.

Meanwhile, Korea’s smallest automaker Ssangyong Motor named Russia as its biggest importer, saying it now sells around 20,000 vehicles there a year.

Exports to Saudi Arabia also rose more than seven-fold in the last 10 years, with 18,859 units shipped this year. Kama cited aggressive marketing by local manufacturers and growing purchasing power in the region as the top two reasons.

In Europe, Germany and the United Kingdom have replaced Italy and Spain as the top two export destinations for Korean vehicles over the last decade as the euro zone crisis has caused a major shake-up to economies in the region, Kama said.

South Africa was the top buyer in its continent, snapping up 50,896 imported cars from Korea in the first nine months of the year, while Chile overtook Brazil in Central and South America by buying an unsurpassed 75,296 units.

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]

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