Domestic sales by South Korea’s five main automakers combined declined by 6.7% to 140,971 units in March 2021 from 151,025 units a year earlier, according to preliminary data released individually by the companies.

The data did not include sales by South Korea’s low-volume commercial vehicle manufacturers, including Tata-Daewoo and Daewoo Bus Corporation, as well as sales of imported vehicles which are covered in a separate report. Together these accounted for close to 15% of total vehicle sales last year.

This moderate decline followed a 20% sales surge in the first two months of the year and comes against reasonably strong year earlier sales when the domestic market rebounded from the initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leading automakers outperformed significantly in March due to strong new product ranges. Hyundai sales increased by 2.3% to 73,810 units last month and Kia sales were flat at 51,011 units while all other manufacturers reported sharp declines. GM Korea saw its sales drop by 31% to 6,149 units, with its output affected by the global semiconductor shortage, while Ssangyong reported a 37% drop to 4,306 units and Renault Samsung an almost 53% plunge to 5,695 units.

Overall domestic sales in the first quarter of the year were up by 7.8% to 358,597 units from 332,759 units in the same period of 2020.

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Global sales by the country's 'big five' automakers, including vehicles produced overseas by Hyundai and Kia, increased by almost 12% to 672,613 vehicles in March 2021 from 601,082 units a year earlier, reflecting a strong rebound in overseas sales. First-quarter global sales were up by 7.3% at 1,814,679 units from 1,691,106 units a year earlier.

The worldwide semiconductor shortage is expected to have a bigger impact on the country's global vehicle sales in the second quarter, with Hyundai having announced significant production cuts at some plants in April and with output at Kia also affected.

Overseas sales rose by over 18% to 531,642 units last month from 450,057 units a year earlier, as demand in key markets such as the US, China, India and Russia rebounded strongly from depressed year-earlier levels. First quarter overseas sales were up by 7.2% at 1,456,082 units from 1,358,347 units in the same period of last year.

Hyundai Motor global sales jumped by over 22% to 375,924 vehicles in March 2021 from 307,176 sales a year earlier, driven mainly by a strong rebound in overseas sales from depressed year-earlier volumes. In the first quarter of the year total volumes were up by over 10% at 997,882 units from 903,364 units in the same period of last year. 

The company has set a global sales target of 4.16m units for 2021, 11% higher than last year's 3.74m units, with electric vehicle models based on its dedicated E-GMP platform expected to make an impact later in the year starting with the Ioniq 5 model.

Domestic deliveries increased by just 2.3% to 73,810 units last month from 72,180 units last year, after jumping by almost 33% to 52,102 units in February from depressed year-earlier volumes. Cumulative three-month sales were up by almost 17% at 185,413 units from 159,061 a year earlier, driven by strong demand for the Grandeur, Elantra and Avante sedans and the new Tucson SUV. 

Overseas sales surged by almost 29% to 302,114 units in March from 234,996 units a year earlier,  helped by recovering demand in markets such as China, India, Russia and the Americas. First-quarter overseas sales were up by just over 9% at 812,469 units from 744,303 a year earlier.

Kia global sales rose by close to 9% to 251,362 vehicles in March 2021 from 231,543 a year earlier, driven mainly by a strong surge in overseas sales.

Total volume in the first quarter of the year was up by 6% at 687,837 units from 649,018 units a year earlier. 

Domestic sales were flat at 51,011 vehicles last month from 51,008 units a year earlier, when it was forced to halt some assembly operations due to supply chain problems in China in the early stages of the pandemic. First-quarter domestic sales were up by over 11% at 130,075 units from 116,739 a year earlier, lifted by strong demand for the Sorento and Sportage SUVs and the Carnival MPV.

Overseas sales increased by 11% to 200,351 units in March from 180,535 a year earlier and by almost 5% to 557,762 in the first three months of the year from 532,279 units, helped by recovering demand in China and the US.

The company expects new electric vehicle models will help drive growth this year with global sales forecast to rise by 12% to 2.92m vehicles from just over 2.6m units in 2020.

GM Korea global sales declined sharply in March 2021, by 22% to 29,633 vehicles from an already weak 37,981 sales a year earlier, reflecting sharply lower domestic sales and exports as semiconductor shortages continued to hold back production. First-quarter global sales were still up by 4% at 90,024 units from 86,591 units previously thanks to a strong bounce in January.

Domestic sales plunged by over 31% to 6,149 units last month from 8,965 a year earlier and were down by almost 9% to 17,353 units in the first three months of the year from 19,044 units. Overseas sales fell by almost 19% to 23,484 units in March from 28,953 a year earlier, but were still up by close to 8% at 72,671 units year-to-date from 67,547 previously.

Renault-Samsung, 81%-owned by Renault, saw its global sales plunge by over 43% to 8,572 vehicles in March 2021 from weak year-earlier sales of 15,100 units, reflecting plummeting domestic sales and also weak exports. In the first three months of the year total sales were down by over 22% at 22,068 units from 28,390 units previously.

Domestic sales plunged by almost 53% to 5,695 units last month from 12,012 units a year earlier and were down by over 34% at 13,129 year-to-date from 19,988 units. Exports fell by just under 7% to 2,877 units in March from 3,088 units a year earlier but were still up by 6.4% at 8,939 units in the first quarter from 8,402 units previously.

Having long ago lost the Nissan Rogue SUV export contract [the model has since been redesigned], Renault Samsung is currently operating at very depressed levels which, according to its parent company, has made it uncompetitive compared with comparable European plants. 

Ssangyong Motor reported an almost 24% fall in global sales to 7,122 vehicles in March from 9,345 units a year earlier, as the bankrupt company continued to struggle with supply disruptions due to cashflow issues. Global sales in the first quarter of the year were down by over 23% at 18,559 units from 24,139 previously.

Ssangyong filed for bankruptcy on 21 December 2020 after it failed to meet its debt obligations with creditors refusing to reschedule repayment deadlines. A number of local manufacturers have refused to supply components because of significant overdue payments, causing the automaker to suspend production for long periods throughout the last quarter. The Indian parent company Mahindra & Mahindra said it was still negotiating the sale of all or most of its 70% stake in Ssangyong.

Domestic sales fell by over 37% to 4,306 units last month from 6,860 a year earlier and by almost 28% to 12,627 units year-to-date from 17,517 previously. Exports rebounded by 13% to 2,816 units in March from 2,485 a year earlier, but were still almost 10% lower at 5,932 units year-to-date from 6,622 units.