Foreign Cars Getting Ever More Popular in Korea

      April 20, 2011 07:31

      Honda workers check Accord vehicles in the automaker's plant in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture in Japan on Monday. /AP-Yonhap

      In the 24 years since the Korean market opened to foreign carmakers, they have expanded their hold to 10,000 cars sold per month and 100,000 per year.

      According to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association on Monday, 10,290 imported cars were sold in March, exceeding the 10,000 mark for the first time since the Korean market was opened up in 1987. KAIDA also predicts the market for foreign cars will reach the 100,000 annual sales mark for the first time this year.    

      The market share of imported cars in Korea rose from 6.1 percent in 2007 to 7.8 percent in 2010, and is approaching 10 percent. In money terms, the proportion of imported car sales was around 19 percent as of 2010.

      The trend is due to a steady increase of demand for luxury foreign cars and influx of affordable medium sedans between W30-40 million (US$1=W1,089) over the last three or four years. And price differences are also narrowing between domestic and imported compacts.

      ◆ Overtaking Korean Cars

      In some categories, imported cars have even overtaken Korean cars. From January to March this year, 3,301 units of the BMW 5 series were sold, ahead of the 3,058 Hyundai Equus in the same class. Mercedes-Benz's E class was not far behind with 2,743.

      Some 1,369 Volkswagen Golfs were sold in the first three months of this year, topping the chart among mid-size hatchbacks. The Kia Forte sold 981 and the Hyundai i30 741.

      An increasing number of consumers who opt for cars with better fuel efficiency despite higher price are one of the reasons for the popularity of imported cars.

      ◆ Younger Consumers

      Young consumers in their 20s or 30s lead the popularity of imported cars. According to KAIDA, people in their 30s bought 14,925 units or 32.8 percent of the 90,562 imported cars sold last year, the largest among all age groups. Consumers in their 20s bought 3,528 cars or 7.7 percent.

      KAIDA chairman Park Dong-hoon said, "In the past, only the rich could own imported cars. But seven or eight years ago professionals in their 40s became the main customers. In the past couple of years, the customer base has become still younger, and now even university students and fresh graduates are buying imported cars."

      Experts predict sales of imported cars will increase even faster. Lee Sung-shin of automobile specialist BMR Consulting said the Korea-EU and Korea-U.S. FTAs will further boost the sales of imported automobiles by lowering tariffs.

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