Domestic sales by South Korea’s five largest automakers combined rose by 4.5% to 117,464 units in January from 112,452 units in the same month of last year, according to preliminary data released individually by the vehicle manufacturers.

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

The market last month was lifted by the government’s decision late last year to continue with the discounted 3.5% consumption tax rate until June 2019 instead of normalising the rate at the end of 2018. 

The South Korean economy also picked up some momentum in the fourth quarter of last year, with year-on-year GDP growth of 3.1% despite a 25 basis point interest rate hike to 1.75% by the central bank in November.

The market last month was driven higher mainly by a near 18% jump in Hyundai sales to 60,440 units, while Ssangyong also posted a decent gain – of more than 14% to 8,787 units. GM Korea was the worst performer with sales plunging by close to 36% to 5,053 units followed by Renault-Samsung with a 19% drop to 5,174 units, while Kia‘s sales fell by 2.8% to 38,010 units.

Global sales among the country’s ‘big five’ automakers, including vehicles produced overseas by Hyundai and Kia, fell by 5.5% to 586,039 units in January from 620,175 units a year earlier – reflecting a decline in overseas sales which more than offset higher domestic sales.

Overseas sales, including vehicles produced overseas by Hyundai and Kia, fell by 7.7% to 468,575 units last month from 507,723 units a year earlier, with continued weakness in China offsetting a recovery in the USA, a slight rise in India and more buoyant demand in other key emerging markets. 

Hyundai Motor‘s global vehicle sales fell by 7.7% to 313,313 units in January from 339,374 units a year earlier, with strong domestic sales mostly offset by a sharp slowdown in overseas demand. The performance is seen as a setback in the company’s aim of increasing global sales by 2% to 4.68m units in 2019.

Domestic sales continued to rise sharply last month, by 17.5% to 60,440 units from 51,426 units a year earlier, driven by strong demand for new and recently launched SUV models including the Palisade, Santa Fe, Tucson and Kona models.

Overseas sales fell by over 12% to 252,873 units in January from 287,948 units a year earlier, with recovering sales in the US and buoyant sales in Russia and India offset by a further decline in China.

Kia Motors‘ global sales rose by 1.2% to 208,908 vehicles in January from 206,348 units a year earlier, with weak domestic sales offset by stronger overseas demand. The company has set a global sales target for the brand of 2.92m units in 2019.

Domestic sales fell by 2.8% to 38,010 units last month from 39,105 units a year earlier, while overseas sales rose by 2.2% to 170,898 from 167,243 units, helped by recovering demand in the US and strong global demand for the Sportage SUV.

GM Korea‘s global sales fell by 8.7% to 38,705 units in January from 42,401 units a year earlier, mainly reflecting a sharp drop in domestic sales while exports were also moderately weaker.

The company continued to struggle to compete domestically with new models from leading local brands, particularly Hyundai, despite several new model launches of its own last year and deep discounts offered since the beginning of the year. 

Domestic sales plunged by close to 36% to 5,053 units last month from 7,844 a year earlier, while exports declined by 2.6% to 33,652 from 34,557 units. 

Renault-Samsung was once again the worst performer last month, with global sales plunging by 37% to 13,693 vehicles from 21,847 units a year earlier – reflecting sharply lower domestic and export sales. 

Domestic sales fell by over 19% to 5,174 units in January from 6,402 units a year ago, despite the introduction of the Master commercial van and the Twizy small electric vehicles in the fourth quarter of last year. Exports plunged by 45% to 8,519 from 15,445 units. 

Ssangyong Motor, majority-owned by India’s Mahindra & Mahindra, was the only company to reports an overall positive performance last month – with built-up vehicle sales rising by 7.7% to 10,988 units from 10,205 units a year earlier.

Domestic sales rose by over 14% to 8,787 units in January from 7,675 a year earlier, helped by strong demand for the Rexton Sports SUV, while exports rose by 4.1% to 2,633 from 2,530 units.

Sources:, industry sources.