The domestic car market is undergoing a major shift due to the increasing popularity of SUVs and other so-called recreational vehicles.
Part of the reason may be that outdoor aficionados want rugged cars that can handle mountainous terrain, but they are chiefly a status symbol because of their impressive size.
The result is a double-digit increase in RV sales despite an economic slump, while once-popular sedans, which used to be the preferred conveyance of the status-conscious, are getting sidelined.
Hyundai, affiliate Kia, GM Korea, Renault Samsung and Ssangyong sold 156,308 RVs between them, accounting for 27 percent of domestic sales. That means more than one in every four cars sold in Korea is a road-hogging RV. Both domestic and foreign carmakers are eagerly cashing in on this trend.
◆ Sedans on the Wane, SUVs on the Rise
A closer look at sales figures in May reveals just how well RVs have been selling as SUVs catch up with sedans. Hyundai sold more than 36,000 mid-sized Santa Fe SUVs from January to May, overtaking sales of the mid-compact Avante over the same period. The Santa Fe, which is slightly outdated as it was unveiled two years ago, is still popular.
Sales of Kia's compact Sportage SUV surpassed 20,000 units, trailing close behind sales of the mid-sized K5 sedan.
GM Korea saw sales of its Captiva, Orlando and Trax rise 35 percent on-year. They account for a quarter of the automaker's domestic sales.
Renault Samsung, whose ranking has fallen to fifth among domestic carmakers, turned to a compact SUV last year to propel its sales. It imported the QM3 from the factory in Spain and has sold 4,500 so far this year.
Ssangyong, which was in court receivership, has been recovering quickly, achieving record sales last year with SUVs accounting for more than 90 percent of revenues.
◆ Power and Ample Space
Powerful engines and lots of storage space are the main attributes drawing customers to showrooms. More and more customers also consider fuel efficiency vital.
Kia sold 7,000 of its new Carnival minivans in the first week of its release. It has double the storage space as its predecessor and boasts better gas mileage at 11.5 km/L.
The Volkswagen Tiguan small SUV, which is the top-selling import in the bracket, comes with a price tag of between W38.6 million to W48.6 million and boasts 14 km/L (US$1=W1,024). The second-ranked Ford Explorer can carry seven passengers plus five golf bags.
Competition is even more fierce among premium imported brands. BMW sold almost 600 of its X3 small SUV this year, as did Mercedes-Benz of its GLK 220 CDI small SUV.
Although they come with a price tag of around W60 million, the two cars have gotten a good response from customers.
The Range Rover Evoque small SUV is also drawing a lot of attention.