Ford believes it is at last gaining ground in South Korea after recording its highgest monthly sales figure in May since the brand was established in the country in 1995.

Jung Jae-hee, head of the company’s Korean unit, said that it sold 657 Ford and Lincoln brand vehicles in May and added: “If we continue the recent sales momentum, this year’s car sales will be strong enough to offset last year’s big investment.”

Ford Korea last year launched eight new models and poured in marketing resources.

Jung told the Korea Herald: “It was not an easy decision for the head office. But they saw the market potential. The nation’s import car market had almost doubled in the past five years while the free trade agreement between Korea and the US is expected to offer a boost.”

Adding to the Korean team’s pressure to meet the expectations was the surprise visit by Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally last August. Among Ford’s so-called “80 Export and Growth” markets, the CEO picked Korea as his only destination last year.

Jung said: “Many customers still believe that US cars are gas guzzlers. But Ford, among others, is a market leader in downsizing. Korea’s import car market is expected to grow 15% this year. If our growth rate exceeds the industry average, I think we could meet the sales target set by the head office.”

In the first five months this year, Ford’s sales have jumped 49.8% to 2,712 vehicles from the same period last year.

Jung said: “The import car market has seen stunning growth in recent years. But there is a deepening gap between best- and poorest-selling brands. My mission is about seeking more balanced growth among diverse brands.”

Jung predicted German premium brands would continue to appeal to luxury customers but made it clear that there is a growing preference for smaller, cheaper models amid high-rising petrol prices.

“There is still enough market potential here. There is more business opportunity both for premium brands and more general brands like Ford,” he said.