business

Sales of Japanese cars in S Korea slump amid growing diplomatic row

33 Comments
By Hyunjoo Jin

Sales of Japanese-branded autos in South Korea slumped in July amid a worsening diplomatic row between the two countries that has led to consumer boycotts and efforts by Seoul to cut the economy's reliance on imports from Japan.

Industry data out of South Korea on Monday showed Toyota Motor sales in the country tumbled 32% from a year earlier while Honda's sales skidded 34%.

Although automakers are still assessing the main factors driving the declines last month, industry participants and analysts expect an intensifying boycott campaign to hurt demand further, as diplomatic tensions grow.

Japan tightened controls in July on exports to South Korea, escalating a row over wartime forced laborers and sparking a boycott by South Korean consumers of Japanese products and services, from cars, beer and pens to tours.

On Friday, Japan escalated tensions by removing South Korea from a list of export destinations approved for fast-track status.

"Showroom visits are declining while consumers are holding off on signing contracts," a Honda Korea official told Reuters, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

South Korean representatives for Honda and Toyota did not provide any commentary on the sales trends and said they would need to assess the reasons for the decline.

However, industry watchers said public sentiment was a factor behind the sharp falls.

"The South Korean public is angry about Japan...It will soon become a taboo to drive a Japanese cars in Korea," Daelim University College automotive engineering Professor Kim Pil-so said.

The data from the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association (KAIDA) also showed Lexus, Toyota's luxury badge and the third-most imported brand into South Korea after Mercedes and BMW, saw sales down 25% from the previous month, although they were still up 33% from the previous year.

Japanese officials have cited unspecified security reasons for the export curbs to South Korea. But they have also pointed to an erosion of trust after South Korean court rulings last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced laborers, a matter Tokyo says was settled by a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral ties.

South Korean shares fell more than 2% on Monday, tracking broader moves in Asia as the Sino-U.S. trade war intensified but also weighed by uncertainty over the diplomatic dispute between Seoul and Tokyo.

Earlier on Monday, South Korea's government announced plans to invest about 7.8 trillion won ($6.48 billion) in research and development for local materials, parts and equipment over the next seven years in an effort to cut the reliance on Japanese imports.

South Korea plans to improve economic "self-sufficiency" in regards to the production of 100 key components, materials and equipment items used to make chips, displays, batteries, automobiles and other products. The government aims to stabilize supply of these items over the next five years.

While foreign-branded cars make up a small portion of domestic auto sales in South Korea, the business community is concerned a consumer swing away from Japanese imports for political reasons could grow in other sectors, like tourism and retail.

Japan's Fast Retailing fashion brand Uniqlo has been a prime target for the boycott, with its 186 stores in South Korea making the country its second biggest overseas market in terms of outlets.

Fast Retailing chief financial officer Takeshi Okazaki last month acknowledged there had been some impact on its sales as a result of the campaign, without elaborating.

Japan's Asahi Group Holdings, whose Asahi Super Dry is the most popular import brand in South Korea, said on Thursday the boycott had hit its beer sales as it lowered its profit guidance slightly.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

33 Comments
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Were they anyway selling a lot of cars in Korea?  I can't recall seeing many (any?) Japanese cars on the road when I am in Korea.

18 ( +20 / -2 )

I can't recall seeing any American cars on streets in Korea as well @kaerimashita

15 ( +17 / -2 )

South Korea’s New Car Sales Shares in 2019 (as of end of July)

Domestic Brands

Hyundai                                     34.94%

KIA                                             31.86% (66.80)

Ssangyong 6.81%

*(Owned by Tata Motors)         

Renault Samsung 6.32%

*(Owned by Renault)      

Foreign Brands

Mercedes Benz                         5.74%

GM                                             4.85%

BMW                                          2.94%

Lexus                                         0.77%

Mini                                            0.71%

Volvo                                         0.68%

Toyota                                       0.68%

Ford                                          0.60%

Jeep                                          0.55%

Volkswagen                              0.43%

Others                                       2.12%

17 ( +17 / -0 )

Japan's Fast Retailing fashion brand Uniqlo has been a prime target for the boycott, with its 186 stores in South Korea making the country its second biggest overseas market in terms of outlets.

That is a staggering number of stores especially considering Uniqlo stores tend to be fairly large, in a country supposedly with strong anti-Japan sentiments.

-10 ( +1 / -11 )

As the previous comments indicate, it is a ridiculous headline. I went there 2 years ago and one of the first things I noticed on the limousine bus from the airport was the total absence of any Japanese cars.

Toyota probably only sold 11 cars instead of the average of 16. Talk about media fanning wet kindling!

11 ( +11 / -0 )

If the auto-industry here starts taking a hit people here might finally start screaming. Auto-exports are practically what built Japan, and other electronics companies here have been flailing for some time, and Nissan and Mitsubishi through scandals, etc. Japan just has to hope the US doesn't tighten restrictions on parts/auto-imports from Japan or the game is over.

-10 ( +2 / -12 )

Toyota probably only sold 11 cars instead of the average of 16. Talk about media fanning wet kindling!

@ozellis - You're way off.

In total 3,946 new Japanese cars were sold in South Korea in the month of June 2019. Of those 2,686 were Toyota/Lexus vehicles (accounting for 68.1% of all Japanese cars).

The total number of Japanese cars sold were more than BMWs sold (3,292), although less than Mercedes Benz vehicles (6,632).

https://www.marklines.com/en/statistics/flash_sales/salesfig_korea_2019

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

What the media is also leaving out is that car sales are down across the world. Why would anyone be surprised about this report? What they need to show that they are now showing is how long have car sales been going down because I’m sure it was going down before this.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

UNIQLO will close down its stores. Koreans will lose their jobs, landlords their rents.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

I lived in Seoul for over 5 yrs, and didn't see but 1 Toyota car, no US cars except those driven by US forces fortunate enough to get them into SKorea. Let's face the reality, Japan doesn't need SK by any means and even if they were to merge as pipe dream, it still not enough to knock Japan. If any thing I have learned about Japan is the resilience of its markets and goods. Moon is living in the past and what the SK people should be looking at is how to dethrone this dangerous guy of his high horse and out the blue house. What the media is not reporting are the many backroom deals SK has with China including hefty loans...the adage make a deal with the devil and be wary of the price...too late for SK...

13 ( +16 / -3 )

UNIQLO will close down its stores. Koreans will lose their jobs, landlords their rents.

@zichi - UNIQLO may indeed close many stores in Korea, like I said above 186 stores is a crazy number. I'd be surprised if there are more than 20 here in Australia.

Koreans may well lose their jobs, but decreased demand for Uniqlo clothing does not mean a decreased demand for clothing overall, and they will find jobs with other clothing businesses that fill the gap in the market.

Landlords also, given that most Uniqlo stores occupy prominent locations, they will find new tenants. You can stop worrying about SK.

-11 ( +1 / -12 )

I warned about this. The trade war has motivated SK to internalize its supply chain. What it cannot develop or acquire overseas, America or China will develop and sell them. Economic nationalism only creates losers. This is the Trump Abe legacy.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

I lived in Seoul for over 5 yrs, and didn't see but 1 Toyota car, no US cars except those driven by US forces fortunate enough to get them into SKorea.

@rgcivilian1 - I find that hard to believe. How long ago did you live in Seoul?

Granted Toyota only makes up 0.68% of total new cars sold in Korea, it is 1.45% if you combine Toyota with Lexus sales which is 1 in 69 new cars (source: posted above by indier99). Currently about 2.7% of new cars sold in SK are Japanese cars, 68% of them being Toyota/Lexus.

And yet you saw 1 Toyota in 5 years? Were you there in the 1980s maybe?

-7 ( +4 / -11 )

I suppose SK will replace Uniqlo with a Korean brand like Forever21.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"If the auto-industry here starts taking a hit people here might finally start screaming"

You sound like a Brexiteer; we will have any deal we WANT because GERMAN car companies will demand Britain have a deal.

Guess what?

German car companies haven't showed up to do battle on behalf of Brexit.

Just like J car companies will not show up for Korea.

Two "minors" who are just too sexy for their own shirts are about to learn a harsh economics lesson!

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Toyota, Honda, Asahi, Uniqlo are all very rich companies. They can buy their products in the other friendly countries. The national security is more important.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

Toyota, Honda, Asahi, Uniqlo are all very rich companies. They can buy their products in the other friendly countries.

@Yoshi! - Easy for you to say, I bet Uniqlo's board of directors as well as their shareholders are seething, given SK with their staggering 186 stores are the second largest overseas market.

The national security is more important.

Come on, even Shinzo or Taro themselves don't believe that. I know Japanese are known for their unquestioning belief in their government, but please, a little more critical thinking would not go astray.

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

smithinjapanToday  07:40 pm JST

If the auto-industry here starts taking a hit people here might finally start screaming. Auto-exports are practically what built Japan, and other electronics companies here have been flailing for some time, and Nissan and Mitsubishi through scandals, etc.

The South Korean auto market means nothing to Japan. The mediocre sales volumes there mean that Japanese car manufacturers could pull out of South Korea altogether and it would make a difference.

And by "failing for some time", you mean companies making themselves sustainable, right? It sounds like you don't understand just how huge the Japanese companies were before downsizing (or 'failing' as you put it) to adjusted demand. As for the Japanese car companies in the US, they are performing the same or better as they have been for he last 20 years.

Japan just has to hope the US doesn't tighten restrictions on parts/auto-imports from Japan or the game is over.

This will never, ever happen. Toyota and Honda have multiple car assembly plants in the US, and build US-market specific models as well. This is not even a topic.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

I wonder if we'll see the game console giants affected.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't really see news here. The Anti-Japanese indoctrination in SK just needed some kind of trigger, which Moon makes sure is being pulled continuously now since his plans didn't work out, to boycott any type of Japanese product. So it's completely natural under those circumstances that sales dropped for Japanese made products. But one must always consider the percentage and here we see that it only affects Japanese companies very little if at all. The real loser will be the young generation of Koreans growing up in indoctrinated hate by demagogues. This is what actually makes me sad.

In the meantime Korean companies also continue to advertise their view; recently came across a commercial aired in Europe of Hyundai. It went something like: "You can only understand things if you know the past. We at Hyundai build cars, before we built harbors - with our own steel, and before we rebuilt our country and now we build this..." So very sneaky - like always.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

In total 3,946 new Japanese cars were sold in South Korea in the month of June 2019. Of those 2,686 were Toyota/Lexus vehicles (accounting for 68.1% of all Japanese cars).

The total number of Japanese cars sold were more than BMWs sold (3,292), although less than Mercedes Benz vehicles (6,632).

https://www.marklines.com/en/statistics/flash_sales/salesfig_korea_2019

I love that JT posters disagreed with this comment, which is 100% fact, based on sales figures as linked, choosing to agree with the other poster whose guess was way off (arguing Toyota must have sold 11 instead of usual 16 cars in a month).

-6 ( +2 / -8 )

I love that JT posters disagreed with this comment, which is 100% fact, based on sales figures as linked, choosing to agree with the other poster whose guess was way off (arguing Toyota must have sold 11 instead of usual 16 cars in a month). 

I don't think they disagree on your numbers, they just voted you down for not recognizing the percentage game. If someone mentioned a handful of cars sold (which we all know is not fact) it just means that in a country with 50 Mio. + inhabitants, the number is ridiculously low anyway (which the actual number is) compared to the full market.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

This is only the beginning and guess what? There are no winners here!!

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

If you want to see what it's like on the street of Korea, just watch this Doug Demuro video.

In case you don't know who Doug Demuro is, he is one of the biggest name auto-reviewer on youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZD2pBeXY6Q

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Some update on the trade war.

Samsung and SK Hynix are apparently finishing up testing on substitute material from local vendors and Europe by the end of this month. They would be fully free of need for Japanese sourced material by February 2020. Observers were shocked that Samsung and SK Hynix were able to replace the EUV photoresist suppliers so quickly; Abe administration believed the Koreans wouldn't be able to, and come to him with the white flag waving after their lines stopped.

Japanese vendors are desperately keeping their existing business relations with Samsung and SK Hynix, offering to do WHATEVER IT TAKES, including relocating their factories from Japan to Korea. Remember, Japan itself has no use for advanced materials because Japan stopped investing in new fabs, so there is no point in keeping these plants in Japan.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

@saitamaliving Aug. 5  09:25 pm JST

The real loser will be the young generation of Koreans growing up in indoctrinated hate by demagogues.

Have you ever met any young Korean?

Unlike native and obedient Japaneses prone to governmental brainwash, young Koreans can tell differences between ordinary Japanese people and their ultra-right politicians and leaders. The political opinions of young Koreans are far more diverse than Japaneses youngsters. For example: https://note.mu/tabi_gari/n/n0222be99d9e2 

BTW, one of my friends who drives Toyota said to me that he already worries about the price of his car when he sells. I once drove Toyota Sienna for about 15 years, but scrapped it as some vital car parts were no longer available. Toyota has better provide car parts of any model for more than 30 years. I will not buy again Toyota.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Korean car is just as good, if not better, in many ways.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Japanese cars are still good, if not the best, in many ways.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I have driven Hyundai for many years. Luxury, Luxury.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I don't think they disagree on your numbers, they just voted you down for not recognizing the percentage game. If someone mentioned a handful of cars sold (which we all know is not fact) it just means that in a country with 50 Mio. + inhabitants, the number is ridiculously low anyway (which the actual number is) compared to the full market.

@saitama - 66% of all new cars sold in SK are Hyundai or Kia, because they're cheaper to buy, cheaper to service, and cheaper to sell. And buying imported cars is often done for the purpose of owning a luxury vehicle (hence why Mercedez is the top selling foreign car make in SK0.

However 20% of imported cars sold in SK are still Japanese cars, and 2.7% of all new cars sold in SK are Japanese brands. Whilst still not a high number, it was misleading and a misguided comment when someone said they have have sold 11 cars rather than 16, when it fact it was closer to 4000.

I learn lots from other posters' comments, and to downvote an informative 100% factual post on the basis that it did not fit the sour grapes rhetoric ("they probably didn't sell many Japanese cars anyway so there's nothing to lose") says a lot about the posters on JT. Too often facts are unwelcome here, choosing to focus on a chosen narrative.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Korean cars are on a par with Japanese cars these days-Koreans don’t need to buy Japanese cars at all.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Toyota group sold over 10 million vehicles worldwide last year. Talk about drop in the bucket.

I do admire the writer of this article conveniently focusing on the percentages and completely omitting the actual numbers.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@ Heckleberry

I was being facetious with the number. Thankfully, most JT readers understood this.

Both the Koreans and the Japanese make great cars and let's just leave it at that.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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