SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korean tire exports grew in 2018 as domestic sales contracted in the face of imports rising to all-time-high levels, industry data showed Wednesday.
According to Korea Tire Manufacturers Association (KOTMA), both domestic and overseas sales of car rubbers totaled over 94.22 million units for the whole of the year, up 1.2 percent from 2017.
Local tire production, which reached around 99 million in 2013, backtracked to 96.89 million in 2016 and 93.12 million in 2017, before making a rebound last year.
"The modest rebound can be attributed to the 4.3-percent increase in outbound shipments, thanks mainly to a rise in demand from Europe, with the overall total reaching $3.64 billion in 2018, up 1.3 percent from $3.59 billion tallied a year earlier," KOTMA said.
The country exported some 71.14 million tires last year.
The association said that while the total volume shipped abroad has fluctuated, the value of tire exports has moved up as local manufacturers are making more expensive products.
It said local tire sales have remained steady at around 25 million units per year since 2010, reflecting the maturity of the market as a whole.
In 2018, domestic tire sales contracted 7.3 percent on-year, amid overall sluggishness in consumer sentiment.
The latest findings, however, showed imports rising 6.8 percent from a year earlier to an unprecedented 12.55 million units. The total amount shot up 11 percent vis-a-vis the year before to $818 million, which is another record high.
KOTMA said that the rise in imported cars is causing the spike in foreign-made tires.
The Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association said import vehicles shot up 11.8 percent in 2018 from the previous year to 260,706 units accounting for 16.7 percent of all cars sold in the country.
Among imports, those made in China moved up 1.5 percent to account for 35.8 percent of all foreign made tires sold here, with Thai tires surging 73.3 percent to overtake those from Germany. German and Japanese tires ranked third and fourth in terms of sales, with import volume rising 10.8 percent and 20.5 percent on-year, respectively.
For 2019, industry insiders said that with the automobile market showing signs of slowing down as a whole, local tiremakers may face hard times as they rely heavily on overseas markets for growth.
"This year companies may become more dependent on the domestic market that is expected to pull off modest growth," an observer said.
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