The Korea Herald


BMW reclaims top auto importer title in Korea

BMW outpaces archrival Mercedes-Benz for 1st time since 2015, selling over 77,000 vehicles in 2023

By Kan Hyeong-woo

Published : Jan. 4, 2024 - 15:11

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BMW's new 5 (left) and i5 Series (BMW Korea) BMW's new 5 (left) and i5 Series (BMW Korea)

BMW has once again reclaimed the top auto importer title in South Korea, for the first time since 2015, by edging out Mercedes-Benz in a duel that came down to the wire.

According to the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association’s report released Thursday, BMW sold 77,395 vehicles in the Korean market last year, just 698 more than Mercedes-Benz’s 76,697 sold. As the former took up 28.56 percent of the total market share and the latter accounted for 28.3 percent, the two German brands gobbled up over half of the imported auto market here.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz went toe-to-toe throughout the year, trading spots back and forth atop KAIDA’s monthly list of auto imports.

As of July last year, BMW looked to have a solid lead over its German rival, as its accumulated sales were some 3,000 units more than Mercedes-Benz at the time. Mercedes-Benz began carrying out aggressive promotions in August, such as offering discounts of up to 10 million won ($7,600). Following the promotions, the carmaker was able to sell over 10,000 of its bestselling E-Class models in just three months, from September to November, and took the monthly No. 1 auto importer position during that span.

BMW countered the competition with the decision to conduct the global launch the New 5 Series in Korea in October. According to online car shopping platform Getcha, BMW Korea began offering discounts on the latest premium sedan despite its recent debut, and the discount rates kept increasing through the end of the year.

BMW was some 1,300 units ahead of Mercedes-Benz at the end of November. Although Mercedes-Benz won the December competition by selling 8,541 vehicles, 692 more than BMW in that month, the automaker could not close the gap in the end.

Last year’s two bestselling models by auto importers were the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the BMW 5 Series. The E-Class sold 23,642 and the 5 Series sold 21,411 vehicles.

“We were able to offer prices with a competitive edge and good options at the right time and in a swift manner and we think that was a major reason,” a BMW Korea official said in explaining how the auto company regained the top importer spot.

“We didn’t only sell the 5 Series in bunches. For instance, the 3 Series, X models have been selling well here.”

According to the KAIDA’s report, BMW had five models -- 520, X4 2.0, 320, 530 xDrive and X3 2.0 -- in the top ten bestselling list for 2023.

Meanwhile, Volvo and Lexus marched their way into the top five biggest auto importers, as the Swedish brand sold 17,018 vehicles and the Japanese brand sold 13,651 in 2023, up 17.9 percent and 78.6 percent on-year, respectively.

Audi, which sold 17,868 cars here last year, managed to hold on to the No. 3 spot, but its sales decreased 16.5 percent on-year. Porsche came in at No. 6, as the luxury brand sold 11,355 vehicles, up 26.7 percent on year.

Last year’s auto import statistics showed that all-electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles gained in popularity. Reflecting on global automakers’ shift toward carbon neutrality, 26,572 imported EVs and 91,680 imported hybrid models were sold in the country, up 14.5 percent and 23.5 percent on-year, respectively. The EV sales surpassed the sales of diesel-powered engine cars for the first time in Korea last year.

The overall auto import market decreased by 4.4 percent on year, totaling 271,034 in 2023. Jung Yoon-young, vice chairman of KAIDA, said that the imported passenger car market of 2023 fell from the year before due to a lack of supply for some brands as well as depletion of stock ahead of new vehicle launches.