Sales of imported light passenger vehicles in South Korea declined by 5.2% in July to 19,453 units from 20,518 units a year earlier, according to the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA).

Imported brands continued to underperform last month as overall domestic market sales of all brands, local and imported, fell by 2% to 131,135 vehicles which the association blamed in part on sharply lower sales of Japanese brands as trade frictions between the two countries flared up after Japan decided to impose restrictions on exports of high performance electronic materials to its neighbour.

In the first seven months of the year, import sales were 19.8% lower at 128,767 units from 160,627 units in the same period of last year with sales also affected by last year's vehicle BMW recall following a series of engine fires, and also some shortages of key import models.

Toyota sales fell by 32% year on year to 862 units in July and by over 25% to 7,184 units year to date, while Honda sales fell by over 34% at 468 units last month although cumulative sales were still up by almost 70% at 6,152 units.

These declines came amid images broadcast on international news channels of a staged protest involving a Japanese car being smashed up on the streets of the capital city Seoul.

Sales of Lexus cars were up by 32% at 982 units last month and by over 33% at 9,534 units year to date, however.

Mercedes-Benz remained the best selling import brand in the country, with sales jumping by almost 56% to 7,345 units in July but was almost 12% lower at 40,461 units year to date. BMW's cumulative seven month sales were almost 44% lower at 21,721 units, mainly reflecting its damaging recall last year. Volvo sales were up by almost 22% at 6,095 units year to date while Volkswagen sales were 66% lower at 2,319 units and Audi sales fell by 60% to 2,562 units.