CC Global: South Korea – Where The Sedan Still Thrives


What do you suppose the best-selling car is in South Korea? The sensible, affordable Hyundai Elantra, perhaps? Perhaps crossovers are king there, too, and the Tucson sits at the number one spot? Wrong on both counts. The best-selling car in South Korea is actually a full-size sedan.

Yes, the Hyundai Grandeur – as the Azera is known outside of North America – took the number one spot in 2017 with 132,080 sales and remains at the top this year. Hyundai, as always, is the best-selling brand in South Korea with Kia a close second and rival Korean brands Ssangyong, Renault Samsung and Chevrolet well behind. The South Korean car market is dominated by domestic brands who last year accounted for 87% of total sales.

Renault-Samsung SM7

The Grandeur outsells its three domestic brand rivals: the Renault-Samsung SM7, the Chevrolet Impala and the Kia K7 (Cadenza). The latest Grandeur comes with a choice of four engines: a 2.4 four-cylinder, 3.0 and 3.3 six-cylinders, and a 2.4 four-cylinder petrol/electric hybrid. Those seeking more performance can look at the even larger Genesis G80 and G90 sedans and the Kia K9.

Contrast that with the US market, where the Azera is being withdrawn due to slow sales and has never offered a hybrid. This new generation won’t reach US shores, although sister brand Kia persists with the similar Cadenza sedan. And Kia in the US offers a glut of similarly-sized sedans: Optima, Cadenza, Stinger and K9.

The Stinger may have been designed for export markets but the Cadenza and K9 grace North American showrooms out of expedience more so than desire. Kia has to compete in these segments back home so why not try and get some additional export volume? Hyundai of America’s decision to axe the Azera appears to be more of an effort to give Genesis some breathing room, particularly considering Genesis models are still predominantly sold through Hyundai dealerships.

Lest you think the Korean market is a charming, sedan-loving aberration, there are plenty of crossovers in the Top 20 including the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sorento. But sitting pretty at the top is a full-size sedan. How quaint.