By on June 2, 2017

Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group - Tucson and Forte, Images: Hyundai & KiaMay 2017 was not a particularly healthy sales month for either of South Korea’s two major automakers in the United States. Including Hyundai’s Genesis spinoff brand, the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group declined 12 percent, year-over-year — 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 percent 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 different standard, one member of the group will 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.

Vehicle May 2017 May 2016 % Change 2017 YTD 2016 YTD % Change
Hyundai Elantra 16,407 22,168 -26.0% 86,955 73,892 17.7%
Hyundai Sonata 12,605 15,879 -20.6% 66,768 92,547 -27.9%
Kia Optima 10,789 10,895 -1.0% 48,465 51,887 -6.6%
Hyundai Santa Fe 9,844 14,732 -33.2% 47,426 39,099 21.3%
Kia Forte 11,801 9,910 19.1% 47,359 43,572 8.7%
Kia Soul 10,521 13,706 -23.2% 43,623 58,299 -25.2%
Hyundai Tucson 10,600 7,369 43.8% 41,707 35,471 17.6%
Kia Sorento 10,413 11,914 -12.6% 40,505 46,960 -13.7%
Kia Sportage 7,001 8,568 -18.3% 28,087 33,680 -16.6%
Hyundai Accent 5,773 5,432 6.3% 27,487 36,191 -24.1%
Kia Sedona 3,561 5,170 -31.1% 12,998 18,297 -29.0%
Kia Niro 2,660 10,488
Hyundai Veloster 800 1,965 -59.3% 7,271 11,223 -35.2%
Genesis G80 1,355 6,390
Kia Rio 1,187 2,241 -47.0% 5,722 10,130 -43.5%
Hyundai Ioniq 1,827 3,475
Kia Cadenza 528 468 12.8% 2,153 2,553 -15.7%
Genesis G90 397 1,916
Hyundai Azera 326 368 -11.4% 1,551 2,233 -30.5%
Hyundai Genesis 76 2,970 -97.4% 890 14,989 -94.1%
Kia K900 46 54 -14.8% 193 377 -48.8%
Hyundai Equus 1 123 -99.2% 17 904 -98.1%
Total Genesis 1,752 8,306
Total Kia 58,507 62,926 -7.0% 239,593 265,755 -9.8%
Total Hyundai 58,259 71,006 -18.0% 283,547 306,549 -7.5%
Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group 118,518 133,932 -11.5% 531,446 572,304 -7.1%

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 — which wasn’t on sale at this time last year — 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 — a fact confirmed by Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell.

Only 248 units greater.

But greater.

Harming Hyundai’s total, of course, are 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 Genesis 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 drop 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 volume 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, 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 — in part because of the temporary blip in Hyundai fleet volume; in part because of the size of the lead — 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 and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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34 Comments on “The Koreans’ American Battle: In May 2017, Kia Outsold Hyundai for the First Time Ever...”

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I don’t see why we separate these two, it’s like separating Pontiac and Buick. They both sold the same crap, it all looked the same as the other brand, neither was priced very differently. Yet for some reason I continue to see these two brands treated as seperate companies. I feel like they are treated special, sure that’s great and all if it broke a record but, they’re one in the same. If they slowed down making the Hyundai version everyone would just buy the exact same Kia.

    • 0 avatar

      A little research would show you that they operate pretty much as separate companies. Hyundai has a ~35% share in KIA.

      • 0 avatar

        Seems like an odd setup, they both sell to the same demographics, on the same lot, with several of their cars looking extremely similar.

        • 0 avatar

          Their cars don’t look a thing alike. Do you have some examples?

          • 0 avatar

            Optima and Sonata, and then their compact and mid-range crossovers; specifically.

          • 0 avatar

            The Optima and Sonata don’t look anything alike and neither do their crossovers (don’t know how anything would confuse the Sportage and Tucson).

            Also, have never seen a combined Hyundai/Kia dealership.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Kia and Hyundai dealer within 5 miles of each other.

          A lot of them look similar, and a few are pretty much identical, but Chevrolets nowadays look and feel far more Korean and cheap than either of them.

          • 0 avatar

            scott25: “Chevrolets nowadays look and feel far more Korean and cheap than either of them.”

            Chevrolet: “Thanks for giving us some small cars to sell, Daewoo!”

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      They share drivetrains and suspensions, but they share no sheetmetal or interior parts at all.

      They don’t sell totally the same style vehicles, either. There is no Kia “Veloster”, for example, and no Hyundai “Stinger”, and the Ioniq/Niro have very distinct market niches.

    • 0 avatar

      I think of it this way:

      Kia models are generally more “sporty” with more eye-catching designs. Look at the Sportage, Soul and upcoming Stinger.

      Hyundai models are generally more toned-down with more conservative styling. Sonata, Azera, Santa Fe.

      …but then I think of the sporty Genesis coupe and Veloster, and the conservative/mainstream Cadenza, K900 and Sedona and my train of thought blows up.

      Hyundai and Kia are like the Ryobi and Kobalt tool brands.

    • 0 avatar

      Pontiac and Buick’s relationship (marketing brands entirely owned by the same manufacturer corporation) was 100% different than Hyundai and KIA (two separate manufacturer corporations where the former owns 33.88% of the latter).

      You seem to have internet access, so I’m not clear how anyone could not know this given interest in the subject and two minutes of reading.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re right, but much of the engineering is Hyundai from what I can tell so the end product is similar to the Buick/Pontiac concept minus ownership as you point out.

  • avatar

    The Koreans used to have a big price advantage over the Japanese, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. They have lost the value story that made them so successful. Other than a superior warranty, why would you buy one over a Honda/Toyota/Mazda?

    • 0 avatar

      While I can’t speak for all, I would DEFINITELY buy another (bought 3 Kia’s in the past 3 years) over a Honda, Toyota, or Nissan. Mostly due to the (Thanks to head designer Peter Schreyer) very clean, Euro looks. Compared to the (not my preference) “design” language that the Japanese (excluding Mazda and Subaru) seem to be currently in love with.

    • 0 avatar

      Because they are very good cars. Just as good to drive as the mentioned competitors, provide more features, and are reliable than all of them (kia).

    • 0 avatar

      “why would you buy one over a Honda/Toyota/Mazda”

      Or Ford or GM?

  • avatar

    Kia and Hyundai may not cost less than comparable manufacturers but they offer more value and look better inside and out.

    I will be testing a Stinger GT once they are out. Kia has been designing some nice looking vehicles and with the addition of a BMW M VP I have high hope for the Stinger.

  • avatar

    Both companies are having a CUV problem; the Sorento is aging along with the Santa Fe (and related Sport); the gas guzzling Sportage and the awful DCT in the Tucson don’t cut the mustard either. I absolutely hate that they do not offer at least a few standalone options (such as a sunroof) without having to buy the most expensive model.

    Launching the Genesis brand without a crossover wasn’t that brilliant of a move either when that market has shown for quite some time that consumers are moving towards.

    • 0 avatar


      In a market nuts for SUV’s of all shapes and sizes they have aging or odd (Sportage) options. As much as I love my Elantra Sport it ain’t going to turn around this trend.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a crossover/truck problem – both in aging models like the Santa Fe and the Sorento and in not having enough supply of the Tucson.

      Also didn’t help that both Hyundai and Kia “dumbed down” the designs of the current Sonata and Optima (we’ll see if the heavily refreshed and more striking looking ’18MY Sonata will be able to, at the very least, slow down the decline).

      Last year, the new Sportage sold a good bit more than its predecessor (81k vs. 53k) in part due to increased supply for the US market.

      Sales are down YTD and that may be due to cannibalization by the Niro.

      This problem isn’t going away even with the addition of a new crossover model like the Kona on the horizon (don’t know why the Hyundai brass has been dragging its feet with the Santa Cruz).

      Kia is in slightly better shape than Hyundai in that it has more crossover or crossover-like models and people movers in the Soul, Niro, Sportage, Sorento and Sedona – and isn’t as dependent on its compact and midsize sedans for sales as Hyundai happens to be.

      Going to be a rough 1-2 years until they revamp and add to their crossover lineups.

  • avatar

    Isn’t saying Kia outsold Hyundai akin to saying Buick outsold Oldsmobile circa 1987?

    They use the same platforms, technology, in a fair number of cases yank from the same parts bin. Not an accusation of “badge engineering,” which does not equal platform sharing (and which some in the B&B don’t seem to understand), but they are the same parent company, they are the chassis level in most cases the came vehicles.

    Is this just a bigger indicator that Kia’s move to going more upscale, dare you say on some models near luxury, versus Hyundai being more of the bread and butter vehicles, with the Genesis broken out as it’s own luxury brand now, working better?

    • 0 avatar

      I keep hearing about things going more upscale, and I’d like to point out there is nothing upscale about KIA, Hyundai, Ford, Chevrolet et al. One might make the observation the overall industry has improved vs X point in time (i.e. once “luxury” features become standard etc) but thinking your high priced (vs real wages) Korean wonder is upscale is simply a delusion.

      relatively expensive and designed to appeal to affluent consumers.
      “Hawaii’s upscale boutique hotels”
      synonyms: deluxe, posh, ritzy, upper-class, classy, chi-chi; More
      towards the more expensive or affluent sector of the market.
      “once known as the low-cost cousin of beef, fish has moved upscale”
      increase the size or scale of.
      “for the most part games are upscaled to fit your TV screen”

      • 0 avatar

        Can we please get a company that will try to build downscale? Particularly for vehicles that already traditionally bring in big dollars.

      • 0 avatar

        Eh, it’s all relative.

        The SXL trim of the Optima is more “upscale” than the typical, mainstream midsize sedan (as is the Vignale edition of the Fusion in Europe).

    • 0 avatar

      Has more to do with Kia having more crossover or crossover-like models and people movers than Hyundai.

      Kia is only “more upscale” than Hyundai in that Hyundai doesn’t offer an equivalent trim to the SX Limited (putting aside the RWD luxury models that aren’t being spun off like for Hyundai).

  • avatar

    It seems like an awkward time for Hyundai. Their cars are no longer cheaper than Honda/Toyota but from a quality/engineering perspective they are not best in class.

    Add in a shift away from cars to crossovers and a luxury brand that isn’t fully fleshed out, and its a challenging time.

    Maybe in 5/10 years Hyundai/Genesis will be perceived to be just as good as Toyota/Lexus but a lot could go wrong in between.

  • avatar

    Pretty odd that even with $3350-6000 cash (depending on trim level) on the hood of 2017 Sonatas, sales were still down 20% compared to last May. Yikes.

  • avatar

    If you want a Sonata Limited it better be the 2.4 NA engine. There are very few 2.0 turbos around my major metropolitan area. Also, if you can find a turbo it you better want it in black or white.

    If you want an Elantra Sport it better be a manual there are no autos. Yeah, yeah, you guys won’t care but a manual is no-go for my wife.

    She liked the Sonata Limited Turbo… but the dealership we went to only had one… in white. Nope.

    If the rest of the model lineup is as limited… there’s your problem! (or part of it)

    • 0 avatar

      After 13 years of only buying Hyundai products (no quality problems)
      I purchased a 2017 Honda CRV Touring…..fully loaded AWD MSRP under $35K.
      Kia and Hyundai had nothing even close as far as spec’s we wanted

  • avatar

    Yep, Hyundai sold way more Sonatas in 2013.

    In 2013, they had legitimately exciting styling, classy interiors, and a lower price than the Japanese.

    In 2017, they have anodyne styling inside and out, and no price advantage.

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