Domestic sales by South Korea's five largest automakers increased by 9.2% to 151,025 units in March 2020 from 138,288 units in the same month of last year, 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 when the data are released later in the month. Together these accounted for 14% of total vehicle sales in the country last year.

The March rebound followed a 20% year on year decline in February when sales were held back by widespread plant closures as a result of the COVID19 coronavirus due mainly to disruption to component supplies based in China.

South Korea had also been one of countries in Asia worst affected by the disease, severely impacting already weak economic activity in the country. 

Most vehicle manufacturers enjoyed positive performances in the local market in March, as production and sales rebounded from February's decline.

Hyundai reported a moderate 3% year on year sales rise to 72,180 units last month while Kia enjoyed a 15% bounce to 51,008 units.

Renault-Samsung's sales rebounded strongly last month, by 84% to 12,012 units, and GM Korea's sales jumped by 40% to 8,965 units. Ssangyong was only brand to report a sales decline last month, of 38% to 6,860 units.

In the first quarter of the year domestic sales were down by 7.2% at 332,399 units from 358,037 units in the same period of last year, although the March rebound may well be short lived in view of the sharp slowdown in the domestic economy.

Global sales among the country's 'big five' automakers, including vehicles produced overseas by Hyundai and Kia, fell by almost 15% to 597,826 units in March from 702,159 units in the same month of last year, reflecting a sharp decline in overseas sales. First quarter global sales declined by 9.2% 1,687,905 units compared with 1,859,767 units a year earlier.

Overseas sales, including exports and vehicles produced overseas by Hyundai and Kia, fell by almost 21% to 446,801 units last month from 563,871 units a year earlier, while first quarter volume was down by 9.7% at 1,355,506 units from 1,501,730 units in the same period of last year – with key markets such as China, India and North America sharply lower.

Hyundai Motor's global vehicle sales fell by almost 21% to 308,503 units in March from 390,177 units in the same month of last year, reflecting weakening global demand and a series of temporary plant closures both at home and overseas. First quarter global sales were down by 11.4% at 904,746 units from 1,021,391 units a year earlier.

Hyundai's operations were significantly affected by disruption to its global supply chain in the first quarter, particularly among component manufacturers located in China. The automaker said it is taking steps to reduce this over dependence by increasing purchasing in other low-cost emerging markets in Asia and elsewhere.

Hyundai's domestic sales grew by 3% to 72,180 units last month from 70,111 units a year earlier, after plunging by over 26% year on year to 39,290 units in February when domestic output was affected by widespread plant shutdowns and falling demand due to the COVID19 coronavirus pandemic.

The company launched the Genesis GV80 SUV last month and its line-up will be strengthened further in April with the launch of the new generation Avante compact passenger car. First quarter domestic sales were still down by 13.5% at 159,061 units from 183,957 units a year earlier.

Overseas sales fell by over 26% to 236,323 units in March from 320,066 units a year earlier, reflecting plunging global vehicle demand and assembly plant shutdowns in key regions including North America, Europe and India. Overseas volume in the first three months of the year was down 11% at 745,685 units from 837,434 units a year earlier.

Kia Motors' global sales fell by 6.4% to 226,960 units in March from 242,370 units a year, reflecting weak global demand and disruption to vehicle production at home and in key countries including the US and Europe due to the global spread of the COVID19 coronavirus. Sales in the first three months of the year were down by just under 1% at 644,102 units from 649,896 units a year earlier.

Domestic sales increased by over 15% to 51,008 units last month from 44,233 units a year earlier, following a 14% year on year drop to 28,681 units in the previous month when domestic output was held back by disruption to its global supply chain. Sales in the first three months of the year were more than 1% higher at 116,739 units from 115,465 units a year earlier. 

Overseas sales fell by more than 11% to 175,952 units in March from 198,137 units a year earlier, reflecting falling global demand and plant shut down in key regional markets. Overseas sales in the first three months of the year were down by 4.2% at 512,246 units from 534,431 units a year earlier. 

GM Korea's global sales fell by almost 12% to 37,918 units in March from 42,996 units in the same month of last year, reflecting weak overseas sales. The company's global sales in the first three months of the year were down by over 24% to 86,528 units from already weak year earlier sales of 114,419 units.

Domestic sales jumped by close to 40% to 8,965 units last month from 6,420 units a year earlier, helped by the recent launch of the locally made Trailblazer SUV. Local sales in the first quarter of the year were more than 14% lower at 19,044 units from 16,650 units previously. 

Exports fell by almost 21% to 28,953 units in March from 36,576 units a year earlier and by 31% to 67,484 units in the first three months of the year from 97,769 units previously. 

Renault-Samsung saw its global sales rise by 9.5% to 15,100 units in March from 13,796 units a year earlier due to a sharp rise in domestic sales. The company's global sales in the first quarter of the year were still down by 28% at 28,390 units from 39,210 units previously.

Domestic sales rebounded by almost 84% to 12,012 units last month from 6,540 units a year ago after a 25% year on year decline in the previous month, helped by launch of the new XM3 SUV model. Year to date domestic sales were up by over 20% at 19,988 units from 16,637 units previously as a result.

In December the company said it aimed to lift domestic sales to over 100,000 units in 2020 from 76,879 units in 2019 with the launch of three all new models and three upgraded models in the first half of the year. The three new models include the XM3 compact SUV, scheduled to be launched in the first quarter, the second-generation QM3 SUV and the Zoe battery-powered electric vehicle, both of which are due out in the second quarter. The models to be revised include the SM6 sedan, QM6 SUV and Master van.

Exports plunged by over 57% to 3,088 units in March from 7,256 units a year earlier, reflecting the discontinuation last year of export orders for the Rogue SUV from Nissan Motor of Japan. First quarter export volume was down by close to 63% at 8,402 units from 22,573 units a year earlier.

Ssangyong Motor reported a 29% drop in global sales to 9,345 units in March from 13,158 units a year earlier, reflecting weaker domestic sales and exports. First quarter sales were down by almost 31% at 24,139 units from 34,851 units a year earlier.

Domestic sales fell by 38% to 6,860 units last month from 10,984 a year ago, resulting in a 36% drop in year to date sales to 17,517 units from 27,350 units. Exports declined by 4.6% to 2,485 units in March from 2,606 units previously and by 6.3% to 6,622 units in the first three months of the year from 7,069 units. 

In late January parent Mahindra & Mahindra proposed a KRW500bn (US$428m) recovery plan to creditor banks, including the state owned Korea Development Bank, designed to return its loss making subsidiary to profit by 2022.