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Imported car sales rise 4.5% in Dec. despite pandemic

This photo taken on Oct. 13, 2020, and provided by Mercedes-Benz Korea shows the upgraded E-Class sedan. (Mercedes-Benz Korea)
This photo taken on Oct. 13, 2020, and provided by Mercedes-Benz Korea shows the upgraded E-Class sedan. (Mercedes-Benz Korea)
Sales of imported vehicles in South Korea rose 4.5 percent last December from a year earlier due to strong demand for German cars, an industry association said Wednesday.

The number of newly registered foreign vehicles climbed to 31,419 units last month from 30,072 a year earlier despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA) said in a statement.

For the whole of 2020, foreign carmakers sold 274,859 autos, up 12 percent from 244,780 in the same period of last year, KAIDA said.

The three bestselling models last year were the Mercedes-Benz E 250 sedan, Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI SUV and Mercedes-Benz E 350 4MATIC sedan, the statement said.

In 2020, German brands -- Audi-Volkswagen Korea, BMW Group Korea and Mercedes-Benz Korea -- sold 186,179 units, up 27 percent from 146,968 in the year-ago period, it said.

Seven out of 10 imported vehicles sold in Asia's fourth-biggest economy last year were from Germany.

But Japanese brands -- Toyota Motor Corp. and its luxury brand Lexus, Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. and its premium brand Infiniti -- continued to struggle over a protracted trade spat between Seoul and Tokyo despite aggressive marketing.

Their combined sales plunged 44 percent to 20,564 units last year from 36,661 a year earlier.

Nissan and its luxury Infiniti brand cars are no longer available at dealerships as Nissan withdrew its operations from South Korea last month due to the worsening business environment amid the pandemic.

In July 2019, Japan tightened regulations on exports to South Korea of three high-tech materials critical for the production of semiconductors and displays. In the following month, it removed South Korea from its list of countries given preferential treatment in trade procedures.

Seoul views Tokyo's moves as retaliation against 2018 Supreme Court rulings here ordering Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Imported brands accounted for 18.34 percent of the Korean passenger vehicle market in November, up from 18.12 percent a year ago. Their market share for 2020 will be available next month, KAIDA said. (Yonhap)
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