An accelerating Korean auto industry is now within a car's length of equalling sales of our home-grown models. According to the official car sales figures for October released last week Korean vehicle sales in Australia were up 80 per cent compared to October 2008 and up 23 per cent for the year so far compared to the same period in 2008.
Sales of Korean-made cars (12,324) nearly equalled the total sales of all Australian manufacturers (12,822) for the month. Nearly 20,000 more Korean-made cars have been sold in Australia this year than in the same time last year. By comparison, locally-built cars are down by 24,594 units, a drop of 17 per cent.
Hyundai is leading the way, recording its best-ever October result in Australia, up by 106 per cent over October 2008, and is our fourth biggest-selling carmaker behind Toyota, Holden and Ford. It's not only Hyundai and Kia that are raising the profile of Korea.
The Holden-badged models of Captiva, Cruze, Barina, Viva and Epica are made by GM-Daewoo in Korea. The Renault Koleos is made by Samsung in Korea and Ssangyong SUVs are from a Korean plant. About 39 per cent of light cars sold in Australia, 27 per cent of small cars and 26 per cent of medium-sized SUVs - including Australia's most popular SUV, the Holden Captiva - are built in Korea.
A Hyundai spokesman said: "We are now on the shopping list. There was a time when we weren't but we have won awards - such as the Carsguide Car of the Year in 2007 - which has made people really notice us. We didn't take our foot off the accelerator when the recession started late last year. We didn't reduce production and we didn't spend less on marketing. That worked in our favour because people saw us as being constant."
Overall car sales in Australia were up in October for the first time in 16 months. Improvements were across the board covering private, business and rental buyers. Sales of vans and Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were particularly strong.
And the situation is set to improve when import tariffs drop 5 per cent from January 1. Some importers, including Mazda and Subaru, have already passed on savings.