Sales of imported light passenger vehicles in South Korea jumped by over 33% to 22,290 units in February 2021 from 16,725 units in the same month of last year, according to vehicle registration data released by the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA).

The market last month rebounded from weak year-earlier levels, when the government began to introduce social restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe. Domestic sales by local manufacturers also increased sharply last month, by almost 24% to 101,356 units.

In the first two months of 2021, sales of imported vehicles increased by almost 30% to 44,611 units from 34,365 units a year earlier. German-owned brands accounted for over 76% of the total or 34,011 units. 

Mercedes-Benz continued to lead the import segment following a 13% sales rise to 11,625 units. The company strengthened its SUV line last month with the launch of the Maybach GLS 600 4Matic, slotting in above the GLB, GLA and GLE Coupe SUVs launched in the fourth quarter of 2020. Two new electric vehicle models, the EQA and EQS, are scheduled to be launched this year to be sold alongside the existing EQC battery powered SUV.

BMW came a close second in the two month period, after sales jumped by over 74% to 11,377 units as the brand continued to rebound strongly from a hugely damaging recall campaign in 2018. Porsche sales almost tripled to 1,593 units from 547 units a year earlier.

Volkswagen sales increased by 23% to 3,019 units year-to-date, helped by last month’s launch of the T-Roc compact SUV with the redesigned Golf compact car set to follow later this year and the Teramont SUV and the BEV ID.4 in 2022.Audi sales surged to 4,664 units from 1,298 units a year earlier.

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

Japanese brands continued to suffer from a broad-based consumer boycott after a diplomatic spat that erupted between the two countries in 2019.

Combined sales fell by 21% to 2,346 units year-to-date after plunging by almost 57% to 20,564 units last year. Nissan and Infiniti withdrew altogether from this market at the end of December. Lexus was the only brand to report a sales increase in the two-month period, of 14% to 1,120 units.

In February Tesla launched its Model Y battery-powered SUV, with prices started at KRW60m (US$52,800). Its sales are not included in the KAIDA data.