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Mitsubishi, Citroen, Fiat to reenter Korea

Three foreign automakers will soon make inroads into Korea as the nation’s import car market continues to expand.

Mitsubishi Motors and Citroen have decided to reenter Korea in March and April, respectively. Fiat is fine-tuning the timing of its advancement.

Mitsubishi Motors will resume sales in the local market in mid-March after a year-long hiatus.

Its official importer and distributor has been changed to CXC Motors from the former MMSK.

CXC Motors is poised to open large showrooms for the Japanese cars in Yeouido, the Gangnam district in southern Seoul, and Bundang south of Seoul.

Citroen will reenter the market in April after the brand suspended its sales in Korea in 2002 due to lackluster performance.

Hanbul Motors will take on imports of the French cars. Citroen is an affiliate of Peugeot.

The Citroen D3 series, which will be introduced next month, is likely to draw competition among small import cars in Korea.

U.S.-based Chrysler Group is mulling over the launch of models of Italian brand Fiat this year.

Fiat had to close down its business in Korea in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Chrysler Group is reportedly considering introducing the Fiat500, a two-door model, as early as in the first half of 2012. About 500,000 units of the model have been sold in the overseas market.

Import cars have captured around 10 percent of Korea’s automobile market after years of seeing their combined market share at 1 percent.

While BMW has continued to secure the No. 1 position among foreign carmakers, four brands ― Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Toyota Motor and Audi ― have been in fierce competition to grab the No. 2.

In February, BMW topped the list again with sales of 1,757 units, followed by Mercedes-Benz with 1,312 and Volkswagen with 1,254.

But Toyota overtook BMW for best-selling model with sales of its Camry sedan coming to 721 units. BMW sold 485 units of its 520d model.

Foreign carmakers saw their sales of small vehicles with an engine capacity of less than 2.0 liters grow by 65.5 percent on a year-on-year basis.

The trend is attributable to high oil prices and a variety of cheaper models introduced to compete with sedans by Korean automakers.

The new models include the Mercedes-Benz C200, Audi A4, Toyota Motors’ Prius hybrid and Volkswagen’s CC 2.0TDi.

The percentage of smaller vehicles making up import cars sold is approaching 50 percent, according to the Korean Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.

In 2010, only about 26 percent of import cars were small vehicles.

In terms of prices, sales of imported cars that are relatively low and vehicles between 30 million won ($28,000) and 40 million won took up 25.7 percent of the market, a 5 percentage-point increase from 2009.

Meanwhile, the import market share of cars priced at 50 million won to 70 million won dropped from 30 percent in 2009 to 27.2 percent in 2010 to register the lowest since 2003.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)
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