May 2017 was not a particularly healthy sales month for either of South Korea’s two major automakers in the United States. IncludingÂ Hyundai’s Genesis spinoff brand, the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group declined 12 percent, year-over-year â€” a loss of more than 15,000 sales for the trio of Korean brands compared with May 2016.
Korea’s U.S. auto market share thus fell to 7.8 percent in May 2017, a drop of a full percentage point. In a market that’s seen sales fall 2 percent overall through the first five months of 2017, total Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group sales are down 7 percentÂ following record annual volume in 2016.
Hyundai and Kia both underperformed the market in May, just as they’re both underperforming the market through the first five months of 2017. But by an altogether differentÂ standard, one member of the group willÂ be pleased with May’s U.S. sales results.
In May 2017, for the first time in the brands’ U.S. sales history, Kia sold more new vehicles than Hyundai. Kia outsold Hyundai. Yes, it was the first time. But it surely won’t be the last.
This victory didn’t necessarily place Kia in a celebratory mood. Kia’s monthly sales release featured a single sentence, only 33 words in length, that highlighted the Forte’s all-time monthly record of 11,801 sales.
It’s no wonder: May 2017 sales of the Rio, Optima, K900, Sportage, Sorento, Sedona, and Soul all decreased compared with May 2016. Subtract from the equation the Kia Niro â€” which wasn’t on sale at this time last year â€” and Kia’s U.S. volume was down 11 percent last month. This is hardly the time to break out the party hats.
But Kia’s 58,507-unit May 2017 total, while 5-percent lower than the brand’s three-year May average, was still greater than Hyundai’s â€” a fact confirmed by Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell.
Only 248 units greater.
Harming Hyundai’s total, of course, areÂ 1,752 sales that would have been attributed to Hyundai in the past are now on Genesis Motors’ ledger. Even with Genesis G80 and G90 sales factored in, total Hyundai Motor America sales plunged 15 percent.
Meanwhile, more specifically, the Hyundai brand sans GenesisÂ lost nearly 13,000 sales in May 2017, year-over-year. That’s despite the addition of the Ioniq’s 1,827 sales, without which the Hyundai brand would have been down by more than a fifth.
Blame is spread far and wide, but it’s largely a passenger car problem. The Elantra and Sonata, Hyundai’s two most popular products, combined for 29,812 May 2017 sales. That’s down 22 percent from 38,047 units in May 2016.
How quickly have times changed? Hyundai sold 45,284 Elantras and Sonatas in the U.S. in May 2013.
Making matters worse were huge declines from the Hyundai Veloster and discontinued Hyundai Genesis plus a 33-percent dropÂ in total Santa Fe sales.
Hyundai wasn’t short on reasons to minimize the brand’s poor overall performance in the United States in May. First, the Hyundai Tucson recorded its best month in the nameplate’s 13-year history. Second, Hyundai said retail volume was up 10 percent, year-over-year, and the brand’s fleet volumeÂ accounted for fewer than one-in-ten May sales. The Ioniq is gaining momentum, as well.
And yet one industry insider noted to TTAC that, while this was the first time Kia ever outsold Hyundai on a total basis,Â Kia’s ability to score a victory over Hyundai on the retail front is old news.
Year-to-date, Hyundai’s 283,547 sales places America’s traditional Korean No.1 some 44,000 sales ahead of Kia. It’s unlikely therefore â€” in part because of the temporary blip in Hyundai fleet volume; in part because of the size of the lead â€” that Kia will outsell Hyundai in America over the course of this year.
But this sibling rivalry will continue to display interesting results, and perhaps Kia can do in America what Kia has already done in the pair’s home market: outsell Hyundai on an annual basis, too.
Hyundai considered that outcome to be a “temporary phenomenon.”
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.