Imported car sales hit a speed bump in April

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Imported car sales hit a speed bump in April

What seemed like a never-ending joyride for foreign carmakers in Korea came to a screeching halt last month as sales tumbled more than 18 percent.

The setback for imports was attributed to Korean automakers releasing new cars and adopting more aggressive marketing. Another reason, however, was not enough inventory to meet demand.

According to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association on Friday, 18,202 imported vehicles were sold in Korea last month. Although that is an 8.9 percent increase compared to the 16,712 sold the previous year, it was down from 22,280 units in March.

Combined sales of imports in the first quarter of the year were 77,171 units, up 26.2 percent from 64,146 a year ago.

Last month, Mercedes-Benz regained the top spot it lost in March by beating fellow German competitors Audi and BMW.

In recent years, the three best selling imports have been from among the four German brands, including Volkswagen, which has been selling between 2,000 and 4,000 units per month.

This year, Mercedes-Benz was No.1 in January and February, before falling to third place in March, when BMW accelerated into the top spot.

Mercedes-Benz last month sold 4,136 vehicles. That’s a 12 percent increase from the previous month. It also is nearly 20 percent more than the same month a year ago.

BMW ranked second with sales of 3,798 units. Although that was 5 percent more than a year ago, it was 2.5 percent less than in March.

Volkswagen, which was fourth in March, moved up to third place after selling 2,612 units.

However, that performance was nearly unchanged from the 2,609 units sold in April 2014 and 24 percent less than the 3,264 vehicles that VW sold in March.

The biggest loser last month was Audi, which ranked second in March. It finished the month in fifth place after selling 1,010 cars, being passed by U.S. automaker Ford. That was barely half the number it sold a year ago and one-fourth of the 3,895 units it sold in March, or a 200 percent plunge.

Ford, on the other hand, saw its rank go up a notch after selling 1,044 units, up from 924 in March. The increase was largely due to the release of the Mondeo diesel sedan.

Japanese cars also struggled in April, seeing their sales drop from the previous month. But accumulated sales in the first quarter showed sales up more than a year ago, largely thanks to the weak Japanese yen.

When compared to the previous month, Toyota saw its sales drop 9.5 percent. But in the first three months of this year, it sold a total of 2,506 units, which is nearly 35 percent more than a year ago.

Two main contributing factors are considered the primary reasons for the drop in import car sales.

First is the comeback of Korean automakers with the release of new cars and more aggressive marketing.

In fact, the nation’s largest automaker, Hyundai Motor, was able to recover a 40 percent market share for the first time this year.

In the first three months of the year, its market share was hovering in the 38 percent range.

In April, its share of the domestic market was 41.3 percent after selling 63,050 vehicles.

One of the main contributors was the new Tucson SUV that sold more than 8,600 vehicles. When adding previous Tucson models, total sales of the SUV amounted to 9,255.

The second contributor is brighter news for the imported car industry as the lower sales in April were due in part to a shortage of inventory, as demand for foreign cars among Korean buyers remains high.

“In April, some brands were struggling with a shortage of supply,” said Yoon Dae-sung, executive manager at the importers association, on why sales figures were down.

Among the hot imports were the top-selling Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI BlueMotion that sold 847 units. BMW’s 520d followed with 615 units and Mercedes-Benz’s E220 BlueTEC was the third best-selling imported car at 441 units.


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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