SEOUL -- Car sales at Hyundai Motor Co. and other South Korean auto firms grew almost a third in August from a year ago as resilient exports offset stubbornly weak domestic consumption.
Analysts say a string of new model launches, including Hyundai's flagship sedan, may lure local customers back to showrooms. That could brighten the outlook for domestic sales hit hard by the fallout from a credit card debt binge turned sour.
But analysts also paint a gloomier picture for exports, citing soaring energy costs, cut-throat competition from global carmakers and a cooling Chinese economy.
"Clearly, the addition of new models is likely to fuel interest in auto purchases, although it may stop short of calling it a full-fledged recovery," said Song Sang-hoon, a Hyundai Securities analyst.
"The export growth momentum will weaken in coming months as global demand is likely to be affected by soaring oil prices, and China's economic slowdown."
The export jump in August resulted, in part, from a comparison with numbers reduced by a month-long strike at Hyundai affiliate Kia Motors Corp. last year. But analysts said South Korea's models also were price competitive in the United States and Europe.
The country's five manufacturers saw exports jump by a half from August last year to a combined 248,724 units, while domestic sales fell 2.28 percent to 84,987 vehicles. Overall car sales rose 32 percent.
But overall sales fell four percent in August from July, with exports down 5.4 percent on the month.
Hyundai, which controls half of the domestic market and is the world's seventh-largest auto maker, said its August sales jumped 17.9 percent to 177,139 vehicles from 150,289 a year ago. The figure, however, marked a decline from July's 186,929 vehicles.
Its exports surged 30 percent to 134,934 units from 104,219 units a year earlier when production was hit by a 45-day strike that stretched from late June until early August.
Hyundai's domestic sales fell 8.4 percent to 42,205 units.
"Waiting demand for new models, coupled with summer vacation that kept factories idle for a week or so, led to poor domestic sales," said Jake Jang, a Hyundai spokesman.
"Sales during the second half should be much better than in the first half. New model launches would not only bolster sales but profitability as well," Jang said.
On Tuesday, Hyundai unveiled a premium sedan it hopes will help it emulate the path to success of bigger rival Toyota.
Many analysts are optimistic that NF Sonata, billed as Hyundai's flagship sedan, will help it move closer to its goal of becoming one of the world's top five car makers by 2010.
The new Sonata will compete with Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord in the key U.S. market, where Hyundai has a 2.4 percent share.
Hyundai's affiliate Kia Motors Corp. said its August sales soared 74.4 percent to 72,284 units from a year earlier due to the company's strike.
Kia's exports, buoyed by strong sales in Europe, doubled to 51,114 vehicles, and domestic sales rose 32 percent to 21,170 units.
GM Daewoo Automotive and Technology Co, South Korea's third-largest auto maker, said August exports rose 68 percent to 59,463 units, taking total sales to 67,070. Exports of its small Kalos and Lacetti sedans to Western Europe bolstered sales.
General Motors, the world's largest auto maker, took a majority stake in some of the assets of Daewoo Motor in 2002, creating the unlisted GM Daewoo.
Stagnant domestic demand hit Renault Samsung Motors Inc., the South Korean unit of French auto maker Renault S.A., whose August sales fell 6.2 percent to 6,204.
Ssangyong Motor Co., which produces Rexton and Korando SUVs, saw its sales up 8.5 percent in August to 11,014.