Overtaking Toyota to become the top-selling Asian automaker in Europe has long been the aim of Nissan and Hyundai. Reaching that goal, however, has become a lot tougher as Toyota finds its stride with new models and its hybrid offerings.
Nissan briefly rose to No. 1 when it passed Toyota in 2015 with sales of 603,000 in Europe, according to data from researchers at LMC Automotive. But by the next year, Toyota was back ahead. Nissan has not come close since. Hyundai, meanwhile, aims to overtake Toyota by 2021.
Kia says being Europe's best-selling Asian automaker is not a target. Even beating sister brand Hyundai is no more than "a healthy curiosity about who's best," Kia Europe Chief Operating Officer Emilio Herrera told Automotive News Europe.
If Kia's and Hyundai’s sales were combined the automakers would already be No. 1 in Europe, but the Korea brands want their sales counted separately.
Measuring which brand is actually ahead is one problem. Hyundai uses the geographical definition of the European industry association ACEA, encompassing the European Union plus those countries in the European Free Trade Association: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Through September, ACEA's figures showed Toyota had a commanding lead with sales of more than 560,000. During the period Hyundai moved ahead of a slumping Nissan at 425,854 versus 411,278. Kia was fourth with 385,818. Honda, Mazda and Suzuki were much further back.
Toyota and Nissan, meanwhile, include Russia in their European sales as well as their respective premium brands, Lexus and Infiniti. Using that definition, Toyota said it amassed 1.1 million sales in 2017, while Nissan quoted sales of 762,574. For Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai are not even in the race.
"We're just not focused on it," Matt Harrison, Toyota Europe's head of sales and marketing, told Automotive News Europe on the sidelines of the Paris auto show last month. "If you look at our competitive set and our strengths, it's not a point of reference. If we're obsessed with anybody, it's probably VW, historically."