Sales of imported light passenger vehicles in South Korea rose by 5.3% to 16,725 in February 2020 from 15,885 units in the same month of the previous year, according to member data released by the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association.

Last month's increase came in stark contrast to the performance of the domestic auto industry which reported a 20% year on year sales decline in the same month as manufacturers shut down assembly plants due to component shortages caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Import sales in the first two months of the year were up slightly at 34,365 units from 34,083 units in the same period of last year with German brands accounting for 21,135 units, up by almost 15%.

Mercedes-Benz remained the leading import brand in this period, with sales rising by almost 10% to 10,307 units, followed by BMW with an almost 29% sales rise to 6,520 units as the carmaker continued to recover from a damaging recall campaign in 2018.

Volkswagen also made strong progress in rebuilding its market presence, with sales rising more than fivefold to 2,463 units, while Audi's sales plunged by over 46% to 1,298 units and Porche's sales were down by almost 50% at 547 units.

Japanese brands continued to suffer from a broad based consumer boycott after a diplomatic spat broke out last year after Japan imposed trade restrictions on sensitive technology and as South Korea demanded further compensation for its World War II victims.

Combined sales of Japanese brands fell by almost 59% to 2,971 units in the first two months of the year.