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.
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Contrast that with the US market, where the Azera is being withdrawn due to slow sales and has never offered a hybrid.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.
I have spent some time being amazed and confused by the number of sedans on offer from Hyundai and Kia. This helps to explain why this is.
The other thing that will be interesting from a US point of view is whether the two channel plan (Hyundai & Genesis) or the one channel plan (Kia) is the better idea. Unless Genesis gets its volumes up, it is going to have some Infiniti-style problems in maintaining any kind of self-sufficiency.
Indeed, Genesis needs a crossover for volume in the US market.
A few months ago, I took an online quiz titled something like “Discover Your Secret Nationality,” which billed itself as matching your personality to that of a Country. It was a fun little thing to do — not serious at all, of course — but my Secret Nationality turned out to be Korean.
Despite the test’s triviality, I pretty much agree. There’s a lot about Korea and Korean people that I can seemingly relate to, and cars appear to be one of them. I think Kia has the best-designed line of cars of any manufacturer I can think of… with Hyundai probably close behind.
And then I read this, about full-size sedans. I love full-size sedans, even though I’m well aware I’m in a shrinking minority. If I were in the market for such a car nowadays, I’d seriously consider being one of the few Americans to buy a Cadenza (my other top contender would be a Chevy Impala). Maybe that quiz was really onto something.
Having had the pleasure to get to know a number of Koreans professionally in LA back in the day and having taken a business trip to Korea, and having met you and gotten to know you through your work here, I’m not surprised at all. Koreans are very hardworking, loyal, determined and perhaps a bit stubborn. I don’t know you well enough to know if that last quality applies to you. 🙂
For those interested, I found the quiz (or one very much like it):
(I got Greek.)
Oh dear. I’m Bangladeshi!
Me too! I’ve been told before that I am not a typical German. Now I know.
Test says I’m Korean.
I am Greek as well!
Test says I’m “secretly” Japanese. (I’m actually Ukrainian.) Yet the more I think about it, the more it makes sense!
Hello from a secretly-Greek Ukrainian!
One more Japanese over here! Very interesting…
Ok; I can see that. It’s a country that I’ve long felt a certain affinity with, despite never having been there. but I’ve met some terrific Chileans. I should go there some time.
I got Belgian!
Ethiopian for me as well.
Japanese !!! despite my love for older large American cars.
Japanese here too. Ittaizentai?!
I’m, too, Japanese, and I can see the sense of that, so the test is not entirely ridiculous. Oh, I own Japanese and… American cars.
I was there in 2015 and the Sonata seemed to rule the roost. Plenty of SUVs around there too. It wasn’t the small car haven I thought it would be. I still can’t get over how ugly some of those Ssangyongs were though.
A typical traffic scene from our tour bus.
Looks like a Lincoln. I wonder – will Lincoln sedans continue in Asian markets after they are discontinued in the US?
I’m a bit surprised at this. I suspect strongly that a very substantial percentage of these are bought as company fleet and governmental agency cars. That’s a pretty substantial market in some countries, especially in a giant metropolis where many employees take mass transit to work.
I’m surprised the Cadenza has done well enough to warrant continued sales in the US. The full-size FWD sedan market (Impala, Taurus, Avalon) is only getting smaller, both from CUV sales and the continued lengthening of mid-size sedans.
Indeed, I wonder why they didn’t drop the Cadenza and K900 from the US to give the designed-for-export Stinger a field free of internal competition.
Very nice article. Having spent some 35 years in the Orient, I’ll offer a view – South Koreans have only been driving in significant numbers since the late 1980’s. Their tastes in cars runs very conservative – and a sedan denotes status, much more than a SUV or CUV, which still carry a “work vehicle” stigma.
Obviously that could evolve as its done elsewhere, but currently a nice sedan like the Grandeur says you’re upper middle class and heading higher. The Grandeur also has quite a long history in Korea – being introduced in the mid-80’s and was one of Hyundai’s first fully domestically designed cars (after the economy-class Pony). Jim.
Plenty of SUVs here of all shapes and sizes, import and domestic. I wouldn’t say they are stigmatized, as many are viewed as upscale, especially imports.
One segment that has has flopped is sedan-based wagons, unlike Japan where they are relatively common. Ironically, the true prestige vehicle appears to be large pickups like Silverados and F-150. While far from common, (in fact still a rare sight) sightings of these would have been unheard-of 10 years ago.
Anybody can go out and lease a diesel-powered 2-3 litre BMW, Audi, or MB product.
Paying the road tax & fuel on a 6-liter pickup really separates the men from the boys (or the girls from the women) .
I have a 3 mile commute one way so I’ll stick with my Cruze.
FWIW, another sign of new wealth is sightings of camper type RVs, Camper trailers, and trailers pulling Jet-Skis or boats.
Unheard of until relatively recently.
As having recently bought a Stinger I can tell you it isn’t a full size sedan. Its not even called a Kia in Korea, they have created a new brand “E”. What it stands for is open to interpretation but lots of guys, who are embarrassed by the Kia name are ordering the badges to rebadge their cars.