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Imported car registration number South Korea 1987-2020

Over a quarter million imported cars were sold in South Korea in 2020, the best sales figures yet since the import and sale of foreign cars were permitted in 1987. Sales by the German auto makers made up half of the total sales in 2018, and German auto makers in all sold over 150 thousand cars in 2018. Meanwhile, domestic auto makers such as Hyundai and Kia sold over 1.5 million cars, slightly fewer than in the previous year.

Opening up the domestic automobile market

The Korean government first allowed the import of foreign automobile brands in 1987. At the time, only cars with engines larger than 2000 cc were permitted, and in the following year, all restrictions were removed and foreign brands began to be imported in earnest. Prior to 1987, imports were banned and most foreign cars in Korea were those brought in by foreigners such as diplomats, then resold to Koreans. Imports were relatively cheaper brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Peugeot, and Volvo. Despite being regarded as unnecessary, excessive purchases to show off one’s wealth, per-year sales of foreign automobiles exceeded ten thousand vehicles within a decade. Unfortunately, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, commonly called the “IMF Crisis”, dealt a body blow to imports and they fell to a fifth of what they had been. Sales grew steadily after 1997, only slightly affected by the 2008 global financial crisis. Yearly sales exceeded one hundred thousand in 2011, while foreign brands accounted for ten percent of the market in 2012.

Future of imported automobile brands

Imported cars were rarer and more expensive than domestic brands, and viewed as status symbols. So, with Korea's economic growth, more Koreans purchased foreign cars such as BMWs or Mercedes-Benzes. This, however, has the side effect of making such brands no longer as exclusive and is leading people to seek so-called “supercars”, sports cars, and even luxury passenger cars such as the Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Though neither supercars nor sports cars, Rolls-Royces and Bentleys are considered top-tier, luxury vehicles. The South Korean market for these sorts of automobiles is surging in spite of the domestic and global economic straits. Business insiders acknowledge that foreign auto makers are paying close attention to Korea as a market with high growth potential for their products.

Number of imported cars registered in South Korea from 1987 to 2020

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Release date

March 2021


South Korea

Survey time period

1987 to 2020

Supplementary notes

The source did not provide a date of publication. The release date used here is the access date.

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Statistics on "Automotive industry in South Korea"

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