Sales of imported light passenger vehicles in South Korea surged by over 34% to 27,297 units in March 2021 from 20,304 units in the same month of last year, according to vehicle registration data released by the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA).

Sales last month rebounded from weak year earlier levels when social restrictions were in place to slow the initial spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Import sales last month significantly outperformed the domestic vehicle market, reflecting growing demand for luxury brands, with the country's five main local manufacturers combined reporting a 7% sales decline to 140,971 units.

In contrast, imported vehicle volume in the first quarter of 2021 increased by almost 32% to 71,906 units from 54,669 units a year earlier, with German-owned brands accounting for over 76% of the total or 54,442 units. 

Daimler's Mercedes-Benz continued to lead the import segment with an almost 25% sales rise to 19,222 units in the three-month period. The company strengthened its SUV line-up in the last several last month, with the launch of the Maybach GLS 600 4MATIC in February which followed the launch of the GLB, GLA and GLE Coupe models 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 its existing EQC battery-powered SUV.

BMW continued to rebound strongly from a hugely damaging recall campaign in 2018, with first-quarter sales rising by over 53% to 17,389 units, while Porsche sales were up by almost 87% at 2,573 units.

Volkswagen sales increased by over 31% to 4,647 units year to date, helped by the launch of the T-Roc compact SUV earlier this year. The redesigned Golf is scheduled to be launched later this year followed by the Teramont SUV and the BEV ID.4 in 2022.

Audi sales surged by over 200% to 7,401 units in the same period.

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

Tesla sales, not covered in the Kaida report, jumped to 3,194 units in the first quarter with most deliveries taking place in March once government electric vehicle subsidies became available.