It has taken 24 years but Kia has finally outsold its bigger brother Hyundai in the monthly sales race. 
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South Korean car maker Kia has overtaken its sibling rival Hyundai in the monthly sales race for the first time – 24 years after arriving in Australia.

According to preliminary figures for March – one of the slowest months in memory for new-car sales due to coronavirus lockdowns – Kia posted a sales increase to rank fourth outright behind market leader Toyota, Mazda in second and Mitsubishi in third.

Kia managed to edge ahead of Hyundai by about 300 sales in March, relegating its big brother to fifth place.

Hyundai still ranks ahead of Kia when figures for the first three months of the year are tallied, although Kia is closing the gap.

A spokesman for Kia Australia declined to comment on the preliminary sales figures, preferring to wait for official registration data due to be released Friday.

Although the jointly-owned Kia and Hyundai brands are run as separate companies and fierce rivals locally and overseas, the vehicles share many of the same engines, technology and components under their unique bodywork.

Both South Korean brands had a long and bumpy road before they made it onto the Top 5 sellers list in Australia.

Hyundai was introduced in Australia by a private importer in 1986; Kia passenger cars didn’t follow until a decade later in 1996.

Kia was a distant relative rather than a close rival for its first two decades in Australia, with Hyundai outselling its sibling by more than three-to-one as recently as six years ago.

At the time, it was the largest sales gap between the two brands in any market in the world.

However, a management shakeup in 2014 saw Damien Meredith, Hyundai’s long-standing head of sales in Australia, promoted to become the chief operating officer of Kia in Australia.

Since then, Kia Australia has posted five years in a row of growth, more than doubling sales from 28,000 cars in 2014 to 61,500 in 2019.

By comparison, Hyundai has recorded four years in a row in decline – from an all-time high of 102,000 sales in 2015 to 86,000 in 2019, a 15 per cent reduction.

Some industry analysts believe the growth of Kia has come at the expense of Hyundai.

Over the past five years, Kia sales in Australia have increased by about 28,000 whereas Hyundai sales in Australia have declined by about 16,000.

Although Kia and Hyundai cars are largely mechanically identical, they have different prices and warranty offers.

Hyundai was the first mainstream car brand in Australia to launch five-year warranty – in 1999 – but Kia was the first inside the Top 10 to adopt permanent seven-year coverage, in late 2014. Kia sales have grown every year since.

However, it's unclear if Kia's surge will continue. The popular Kia Seltos SUV – which was heavily promoted during this year's Australian Open Tennis competition – now has a three-month waiting list, and sales could start to plateau or decline due to the market slowdown caused by COVID-19 lockouts.

Showrooms for all major brands remain open but new-car sales enquiries across the industry have dropped dramatically in the past fortnight.

New car sales in March 2020*

Toyota: 17,500, up 1.6 per cent
Mazda: 6800, down 29 per cent
Mitsubishi: 5700, down 43 per cent
Kia: 5600, up 6 per cent
Hyundai: 5400, down 29 per cent
Holden: 5000, up 30 per cent
Ford: 4800, down 21 per cent
Nissan: 3500, down 30 per cent
Honda: 3100, down 27 per cent
Subaru: 3000, up 0.2 per cent
Volkswagen: 2800, down 38 per cent

* Preliminary figures, rounded, and subject to change.