Sales of imported vehicles in South Korea rose 19 percent in May from a year earlier as strong demand for German vehicles offset weak demand for Japanese ones amid the coronavirus pandemic, an industry association said Wednesday.
The number of newly registered foreign vehicles rose to 23,272 units last month from 19,548 a year earlier, the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA) said in a statement.
"New models released by Audi and Porsche and increased supplies and marketing activities by Mercedes-Benz helped drive up the overall monthly sales," KAIDA spokeswoman Park Eun-seok said in a statement.
Imported brands accounted for 17 percent of South Korea's passenger vehicle market in the January-April period, up from 15 percent a year ago. Their market share for May will be available in late June.
From January to May, foreign carmakers sold a total of 100,886 autos, up 12 percent from 89,928 in the same period of last year, KAIDA said.
The three bestselling models were the Mercedes-Benz's E300 4MATIC sedan, E250 sedan and Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI sport utility vehicle, the statement said.
German brands -- Audi-Volkswagen Korea, BMW Group Korea and Mercedes-Benz Korea -- sold a combined 15,920 vehicles last month, jumping 23 percent from 12,852 a year ago, it said.
In contrast, Japanese carmakers saw their sales plunge 62 percent to 1,672 units from 4,415 during the same period, as the two countries are still at odds over Japan's export curbs against South Korea.
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.
Nissan announced last month it will withdraw its operations from South Korea by December as it is hard to regain sustainable growth here due to worsening business environments amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Japanese carmaker will pull out the Nissan and premium Infiniti brands as part of its global business reorganization, the company said in a statement.
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, it 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. (Yonhap)