SEOUL-- The number of vehicles sold in China by Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. in April fell 65 percent on-year due to the ongoing diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system, the companies said Thursday.

The two South Korean automakers sold a combined 51,059 vehicles in China last month, down from 146,378 units tallied a year earlier, corporate data showed.

In March, their sales fell 52 percent to 72,032 units in the neighboring market from 150,592 units a year earlier. It was the first time that their combined monthly sales fell below the 100,000-unit mark since February 2016, when numbers stood at 95,235 units.

The sharp decline in sales came amid escalating tension between the two trading partners over the stationing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on South Korean soil.

China has explicitly opposed the THAAD deployment, arguing the system could be used against it. Seoul and Washington countered that the system is only aimed at defending against nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.

Some consumers and companies in China have joined the government-led economic sanctions against South Korea and are holding campaigns against Korean-made vehicles and other products.

Affected by poor performance in China, the two carmakers' overall sales declined 8 percent to 2.3 million autos in the first four months from 2.5 million units tallied in the same period in 2016, data by the companies said.

For the whole of 2016, Hyundai sold 1.14 million autos in China, up 7.5 percent from the previous year. Kia's sales rose 5.5 percent year-over-year to 650,005, they said.

If the current trade row continues, analysts said the carmakers will definitely sell fewer autos in the world's biggest automobile market this year.

Source: Yonhap News Agency