Domestic sales by South Korea’s five largest automakers increased by just 0.5% to 133,719 units in May 2019 from 133,062 units in the same month of last year, according to preliminary data released individually by the companies.

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

The sluggish May market performance followed sharply weaker economic growth in the country in the first quarter of the year. New SUV models from Hyundai underpinned demand so far this year with the country’s leading car brand reporting a 9.5% year on year rise to 67,756 units last month.

Kia’s sales fell by close to 9% to 43,000 units and GM Korea’s sales were down by more than 12% at 6,727 units. Renault-Samsung and Ssangyong, which have yet to release domestic sales data for May, saw their combined sales fall by 4.8% to 16,236 units. 

Overall domestic sales in the first five months of the year were just under 1% higher at 630,074 units from 624,575 units in the same period of 2018.

Global sales among the country’s ‘big five’ automakers, including vehicles produced overseas by Hyundai and Kia, fell by 2.5% to 664,200 units in May from 702,376 units a year earlier – mainly reflecting weaker overseas sales. Total volumes in the first five months of the year were 3.4% lower at 3,208,926 units from 3,321,699 in the same period of last year.

Overseas sales, including vehicles produced abroad by Hyundai and Kia, fell by 6.8% to 530,481 units last month from 569,314 units a year earlier and by 4.8% to 2,081,221 units year to date from 2,186,065 units. This reflected sharply declining sales in China and slowing demand in India, Turkey, South America and other emerging markets, while sales in the US were beginning to improve.

Hyundai Motor‘s global vehicle sales declined by 7.7% to 357,515 units in May from 387,506 units a year earlier with strong domestic sales more than offset by sharply lower overseas demand. Global sales in the first five months of the year were down by 4.4% at 1,747,845 autos from 1,828,678 in the same period last year.

Domestic sales in May continued to be lifted by strong demand for new SUVs such as the Palisade and Santa Fe, with overall deliveries to dealers rising by 9.5% to 67,756 units from 61,896 a year earlier. Sales in the first five months of 2019 were 9.6% higher at 323,126 units from 294,887 units a year earlier.

Overseas sales plunged 11% to 289,759 units last month from 325,610 units a year earlier and by 5.4% to 1,336,984 units in the first five months of the year from 1,413,086 units previously, reflecting continued weak sales in China and other emerging markets including India, Turkey and Latin America.

The company hopes its sales in the US will pick up momentum in the second half of the year following the recent launch of the Palisade.

Kia Motors‘ global sales fell by 3.4% to 239,059 vehicles in May from 247,558 units a year earlier, reflecting both weaker domestic and overseas sales. In the first five months of the year the brand’s global sales were down by 1.6% at 1,116,898 units from 1,134,552 units previously.

Domestic sales fell by 8.6% to 43,000 units last month from 47,086 units a year earlier and by 9.6% to 200,465 units in the first five months of the year from 221,740 units a year earlier, mainly as the brand struggled to compete with new models from Hyundai. 

Overseas sales fell by 2.2% to 196,059 in May from 200,512 in the same period, but were still up slightly at 915,539 units year to date from 912,852 units previously, helped by a pick up in sales in the US and Europe amid strong global demand for the Sportage SUV.

The company plans to step up new model launches globally this year, including an all-new Soul SUV and the new Seltos entry-level SUV, developed under the SP2 code name, which will be launched domestically next month.

GM Korea‘s global sales rose by 0.4% to 41,060 units in May from 40,879 units a year earlier, reflecting stronger export sales which more than offset a sharp decline in domestic sales. Sales in the first five months of the year were still 2.6% lower at 194,721 units from 199,840 units in the same period of last year.

Domestic sales fell by over 12% to 6,727 units last month from 7,670 units a year earlier, despite strong demand for the Spark minicar and the Trax compact crossover vehicle. Sales in the first five months of the year were more than 9% lower at 29,810 units from 32,968 units previously. 

The company plans to launch the Transverse SUV and the Colorado pickup truck later this year to help strengthen domestic sales. It also plans to begin local production of the Trailblazer SUV by the end of the year which should help both domestic and export sales.

Exports rose by 3.4% to 34,333 units in May from 33,209 units a year earlier but were still 1.2% lower at 164,911 units year to date from 166,872 in the same period of last year.

Renault-Samsung, which is 80% owned by Renault, said its global sales continued to plunge in May – by close to 22% to 12,572 units from 16,101 units a year earlier. Sales in the first five months of the year were more than 37% lower at 65,502 units from 104,097 units in the same period of last year.

The company said output continued to be affected by an ongoing dispute with its labour union over wages and working conditions. Since the dispute began, the company estimated its production loss at around 14,000 vehicles. Renault-Samsung has not yet released its domestic and overseas sales data for the month of May.

Ssangyong Motor, majority-owned by Mahindra & Mahindra, reported a more than 8% rise in global sales to 13,994 units in May from 12,920 units a year earlier which the company attributed to strong exports. In the first five months of the year, the brand’s sales rose by just under 10% to 59,902 units from 54,532 units in the same period of last year.

Driving sales forward this year was strong global demand for the Rexton Sports SUV and the recently launched updated Korando. In early June Ssangyong also launched an updated Tivoli SUV which should help underpin its recent growth momentum.