Sales of imported light passenger vehicles in South Korea increased by just 1% to 22,116 units in August 2021 from 21,894 units in the same month of last year, according to registration data released by the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA).

Sales growth slowed significantly last month from the 23% rebound in July which came after deliveries in June were held back by social and business restrictions put in response to the latest surge in coronavirus infections in the country.

While all vehicle manufacturers are struggling with the global shortage of semiconductors at the moment, imports continued to outperform the domestic vehicle market which declined by over 4% to 106,247 units last month.

Import sales in the first eight months of 2021 were up by over 14% at 194,262 units from 169,908 units a year earlier, with German-owned brands accounting for over 74% of the total.

Mercedes-Benz continued to lead this segment with a 28% sales rise to 55,987 units year to date, despite a 5% drop in August. The company encountered problems qualifying its newly launched EQA model for electric vehicle subsidies, according to local reports, while the EQS model was also scheduled to be launched in the second half of the year.

BMW sales declined by 13% in August, but were still up by 21% at 47,497 units year to date while Mini’s eight month sales were up by over 11% at 8,013 units. Earlier this year BMW Group Korea said it would launch 10 new models in the country this year, including EVs and Mini brand models, while also expanding its network of dealers and service centres.

Volkswagen reported an almost 17% increase in cumulative sales to 10,998 units, helped by the launch of the T-Roc compact SUV earlier in the year. The redesigned Golf compact car is scheduled to be launched later in 2021, to be followed by the Teramont SUV and the BEV ID.4 in 2022.

Audi’s sales increased by 2.3% to 14,771 units in the same period, while Porsche reported a 3.4% rise to 6,721 units.

At the end of last year local distributor Audi Volkswagen Korea Group said it planned to launch eight new all electric models by 2023 to tap in to growing local demand for zero emission vehicles in the country.

KAIDA recently estimated its members planned to launch a 53 BEV models in South Korea by the end of 2023, as well as 46 mild hybrid and 32 hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric models. This will put further pressure on the smaller domestic manufacturers.

Stellantis Group in July announced plans to launch six electrified models in South Korea by 2026, or one model every year, starting with the Wrangler 4×4 plug-in hybrid in 2021.

Tesla sales, which are not covered by KAIDA, surged by 64% to 11,626 units in the first half of the year.