Blog: Glenn BrooksHyundai crowbarred off its perch. By Kia.

Glenn Brooks | 18 January 2012

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just-auto's planet-hugging pedaller (for it is he)

Last week Dave and self were manning a very busy news desk whilst Graeme and Simon were over in Detroit. Which is my excuse for having taken a week longer than I normally do to glance at the major markets' monthly registrations numbers. So it is that I am only just noticing something big having happened in Korea.

After many, many years, the Hyundai Sonata has been knocked out of the number one slot. The Sonata, which is also a major seller in the USA, is proving to be less popular with the home market crowd. To be fair, car buyers' tastes in South Korea have been shifting in recent years and the car itself is getting close to the mid-point of its lifecycle.

More competition, a gradual opening of the market to foreign competitors but especially the ongoing wave of much-improved new cars are also to blame for the Sonata's fall. Its tumble isn't a big problem for Hyundai, mind. Even though sales plunged by 31 percent to 104,248 units, the larger and higher-margin Grandeur sedan (the US and Canada's Azera) turned in a stellar performance with 107,652 sales. Korea's top seller, however, was the Hyundai Avante (Elantra in some countries) with 131,016 sales.

What I started this blog to point out is this: the car that has really put the cat amongst the pigeons is the little Kia Morning (Picanto). As the country's second best selling vehicle in 2011, its 114,687 sales show just how popular little hatchbacks can be in a market that's evolving. And that number is also twice the volume done by its rival the Chevrolet Spark. Kia's Sportage also outsold its twin the Hyundai (52,018 versus 43,198) Tucson, while there were 87,452 units of the Kia K5 (Optima) delivered to Korean customers last year. The tiny Kia Ray also bounced into the top ten in December, its first month on sale, with an impressive 4,107 sales.

And the size of the Korean market in 2011? Passenger vehicle sales were up by half a percent to 1.3 million. Hyundai fell just short of the half-million mark (499,043), while second placed Kia delivered 412,873 sales. Best imports-only brand was BMW, with 23,292 sales, which just shows how much things have changed - Mercedes-Benz was only a few thousand behind in a country where foreign name cars were almost unheard of only a few years ago.

By the way, the shining example of carbon neutrality you see beaming back at you above is just-auto's very own He Who Must Be Obeyed and editorial director, the aforementioned Mister Leggett. We attended the same Kia Optima media launch event at a hotel which turned out to be near his home, thus his mode of arrival and exit. An engaging afternoon with Dave, onboard in the new-to-Europe Optima, it turned out to be. If you have a few minutes to spare and fancy reading about the car, you'll find my rambling thoughts here.


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