Mercedes-Benz recorded the best sales performance in 2019 since its entry into the Korean market, beating Korea-based automaker GM Korea. This marked the first time that an imported car brand recorded annual sales exceeding those of an automaker producing cars in Korea.
Last year, Mercedes-Benz's annual sales in Korea reached 79,133 units, ranking first in the imported car industry for the second year in a row and eclipsing even those of GM Korea (76,471 units), said the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association on Jan. 6. As a result, last year, the sales rankings of the automakers in Korea were in the order of Hyundai, Kia, SsangYong, Renault Samsung, Mercedes-Benz and GM Korea.
It is the sedan E-Class that helped Mercedes-Benz outclass not only other imported car brands but GM Korea in the sales standings in Korea. Last year, the E-Class sold 37,717 units, accounting for about half of Mercedes-Benz’s total sales. In addition, sports utility vehicles (SUVs) such as the GLC, the GLC Coupe, and the GLE also sold a total of 14,415 vehicles, driving up Mercedes-Benz’s earnings.
BMW came in second with 44,191 units after Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus nabbed third place despite Koreans’ boycott of Japanese goods. Their followers that sold more than 10,000 units were Audi (11,930 units), Toyota (10,611 units), Volvo (10,570 units), Jeep (10,251 units), and Mini (10,222 units). Although BMW picked up second place, fire accidents ruined its brand reputations, pushing down its sales 12.5 percent on year, further widening its gap with Mercedes-Benz. Lexus put up a good fight but its sales fell 8.2 percent on year.
It is worth noting that Audi climbed to fourth place in the market after full-fledged sales of new cars from September last year. Audi recorded none in sales in the first half of last year due to a delay in the certification of their new models but displayed its power by launching new models such as the A3, the A4, the A5, and the A6 sedans and the Q7 in the second half of the year.
Despite Mercedes-Benz's better-than-expected sales performances and some brands’ good fights, last year, the number of newly registered imported cars reached 244,080 units, down 6.1 percent from 2018. The drop is blamed on Korean consumers’ boycott of Japanese goods, a delay in certification due to the “Diesel-gate” and the overall contraction of automobile consumption. Imported cars’ Korean car market share also dropped to 14 percent, the 2016 level. In fact, sales of the three Japanese carmakers -- Toyota, Nissan and Honda -- totaled 36,661 units, down 19 percent from 2018. Nissan's and Toyota's sales fell 39.7 percent and 36.7 percent, respectively, but Honda's sales grew 10.1 percent. At the beginning of the boycott, Japanese car sales fell by half compared to the previous year but recovered sharply on the back of big year-end discounts.
“In 2019, the imported passenger car market in Korea contracted from 2018 due to a lack of quantities of some brands and a drop in imported car sales,” said an official of the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association. “Among imported eco-friendly models, hybrids and electric vehicles accounted for 11.3 percent of hybrid and 1.0 percent, a smaller proportion compared to that of their Korean counterparts.”