Japanese automakers are put on alert in the Korean market. They have enjoyed a sharp sales growth so far this year, with their share of the Korean market topping 20 percent for the first time since 2010. But as Japan has retaliated Korea by restricting exports of core semiconductor materials, a “Boycott Japan” movement is growing in the online world.
Japanese cars accounted for 21.5 percent (23,482 units) of the 109,314 imported cars sold in Korea in the first half of this year, a 6.3 percentage points jump from the same period of last year, the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA) said on July 3. This was the highest growth rate among foreign automobiles sold in Korea and outweighed those of U.S. and German cars.
The share fell short of 35.5 percent, the highest-ever record set in 2008, but was an encouraging achievement for the Japanese car industry. Japanese cars posted a 10.9 percent market share when they entered the Korean market for the first time in 2001. Then their share rose to 18.4 percent in 2002, 19.4 percent in 2003, 29.3 percent in 2004, 29.4 percent in 2005, 30.1 percent in 2006 and 33 percent in 2007 and peaked at 35.5 percent in 2008.
However, after the global financial crisis broke out in 2008, their market share declined for six years in a row, registering 27.9 percent in 2009, 26.4 percent in 2010, 18 percent in 2011, 18.3 percent in 2012, 14.1 percent in 2013, 12.3 percent in 2014 and 11.9 percent in 2015. But the figure rebounded to 15.7 percent in 2016 and 18.7 percent in 2017 before falling to 17.4 percent in 2018.
A steep increase in Japanese cars’ market share in Korea is attributable to Honda’s sales growth and a steady sales performance of the Lexus in Korea. Recently, as fine dust has become a major social issue in Korea, interest in Japanese cars, in particular, Japanese hybrid cars, has increased. Moreover, Japanese cars benefited from the Volkswagen emissions scandal, known as Dieselgate or Emissionsgate, which began in September 2015.
However, public opinions in Korea have been turning against Japanese cars as Japan decided to impose restrictions on exports of Japanese semiconductor materials to Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix. For example, some people insisted in a petition message board of Cheong Wa Dae that Korea respond to Japan’s action by boycotting Japanese products and Japan tourism.