Despite some concerns that anti-Japan sentiment may affect sales, Japanese cars are continuing to make progress in the Korean market.

According to figures released on Wednesday by the Korea Automobile Importers & Distributors Association, Japanese makes – Lexus and Honda – accounted for more than a quarter of newly registered imported vehicles last month.

In 2004, those two commanded nearly 30 percent of the market share among 20 imported makes.

The number of new foreign cars registered last month rose 17.7 percent compared to a year ago to 2,069 units, according to KAIDA.

“We expect an average 15 percent increase in sales of imported cars this year as about 50 new models are entering the market,” said Yoon Dae-sung, director of the association.

Toyota’s premium marque Lexus has secured a firm position in the domestic market that challenges BMW, the all-time No. 1 among imports here.

Lexus also has two of the most popular models in the country – the ES 330 and LS 430 – with each selling more than a hundred units a month.

Displayed at its Seoul Motor Show booth under the theme “Luxury and Prestige,” are six models currently available in the market including the recently introduced GS luxury sports sedan.

Lexus, which aims to sell 6,000 cars here this year, introduced diverse customer satisfaction devices last month such as financing and the Express Maintenance Service. Express maintenance now offered at its Seoul dealership features a routine checkup in only one hour instead of the regular two.

The Japanese car marque now has nine dealerships in the country including two that recently opened in the southeastern city of Daegu and the central Daejeon.

“Japanese carmakers have stable growth potential here as they have the logistical advantage and relatively similar tastes with Koreans. Plus, they are currently the global leaders in terms of quality,” said an unnamed industry figure.

“Anti-Japan feelings don’t seem to affect the sales of high-end Lexus cars while they may have a minor influence on consumers hesitating between Honda’s Accord midsize and similarly-priced domestic large cars,” he said.

For Honda, which entered the Korean market a year ago, its monthly sales dropped from 282 units in January to 127 in April, largely due to a lack of new models.

The Korean unit of the Tokyo-based automaker excelled last year, selling 1,475 units of its Accord sedan and CR-V SUV despite the fact that it started business in May.

The figure was outnumbered by only four – BMW (5,509 units), Lexus (5,362 units), Mercedes-Benz (3,188 units) and Chrysler (1,736 units) – among the 20 foreign brands available.

Honda sets a modest sales target of 2,000 units this year as it has no plans to bring in new models or open new dealerships.

Honda is looking forward to next year when they are scheduled to unveil their 3.5 liter luxury Legend sedan and open two dealerships in Bundang and Daejeon. The carmaker at present has three dealerships in Seoul and one in Busan.

Honda ranked third in sales during the three months to March.

The share of Japanese cars is expected to soar as another brand – Nissan’s Infiniti – is scheduled to enter in July.

“The introduction of the Infiniti’s five models – ranging from sedans and SUVS – is likely to enlarge the slice of the importers’ pie instead of gnawing at it,” said Chae Young-seok, editor of the online magazine Global AutoNews.