SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's car sales fell 15 percent last month from a year earlier as the spreading coronavirus outbreak affected vehicle production and sales.
The country's five carmakers -- Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp., GM Korea Co., Renault Samsung Motors Corp. and SsangYong Motor Co. -- sold a combined 597,826 vehicles in March, down from 702,929 units a year ago, according to data from the companies.
The lower sales largely resulted from suspended operations of Hyundai and Kia's major overseas plants and three other carmakers' parent firms' output reduction in their plants as COVID-19 spread across the world and had a bigger impact on the global economy.
Hyundai and Kia, which together form the world's fifth-biggest carmaker by sales, suspended most of their plants, in the United States, Europe, Russia, and India, following the local governments' directives to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As a result, Hyundai's sales plunged 21 percent to 308,503 vehicles last month from 390,177 units a year ago. Kia's declined 6.4 percent to 226,960 from 242,370 during the same period.
The companies plan to boost sales in the domestic market to offset declining sales in overseas markets.
Hyundai has seven domestic plants -- five in Ulsan, one in Asan and one in Jeonju -- and 10 overseas plants -- four in China and one each in the United States, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Russia, India and Brazil. Their combined capacity reaches 5.5 million vehicles.
Kia has eight domestic plants -- two in Gwangmyeong, three in Hwaseong and three in Gwangju -- and seven overseas ones -- three in China and one each in the U.S., Slovakia, Mexico and India. Their overall capacity is 3.84 million units.
They set a combined sales goal of 7.54 million autos in global markets this year, higher than 7.2 million units they sold last year. But they are widely expected to fall short of the sales target due to the coronavirus impact.
Hyundai and Kia are likely to report poor earnings results this year as their sales in China remain weak, while showing no signs of a rebound.
To offset tepid demand in China, Hyundai and Kia had planned to put a bigger focus on boosting sales in the U.S. market this year by launching Hyundai's Tucson SUV, Hyundai's independent Genesis brand's GV80 SUV and G80 sedan and Kia's Sportage SUV.
But the coronavirus outbreak and suspension of their overseas plants won't allow them to offset weak Chinese sales with U.S. sales.
SsangYong Motor was the worst performer. Its sales plunged 29 percent on-year to 9,345 units in March from 13,158 due to weaker demand for its models.
GM Korea's sales declined 12 percent to 37,918 from 42,996 during the same period on weak exports. Renault Samsung's sales rose 9.5 percent to 15,100 from 13,796 helped by robust sales of its SUV models.
From January to March, the five carmakers sold 1,687,905 vehicles, down 9.2 percent from 1,859,767 a year earlier.
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