SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor Co. and other South Korean carmakers increased their combined exports by over 30 percent last month, with strong sales to Europe, more than offsetting a prolonged slump in local sales.
Record-high crude prices, depressed consumer sentiment and a shaky jobs market are likely to delay an upturn in domestic sales, analysts said, noting sales of new models, including Hyundai's flagship NF Sonata sedan, fell short of market expectations.
Hyundai last month rolled out its first new model in six and a half years hoping it can emulate what Toyota Motor Corp.'s Camry did for Japan's number one maker, and drive local consumers back into showrooms.
The Camry was Toyota's first car sold in volume globally and helped catapult the firm to number two in world rankings.
"A pickup in local consumption may not come anytime soon. Hyundai's new model was popular, but there are many uncertainties deterring a fully-fledged recovery in local sales," said Daiwa Securities analyst Joe Lee.
"And for Hyundai to claim its new model is a success, we have to wait and see how it is received in the U.S. market."
The new model replaces the previous Sonata which sold around 120,000 units a year in the United States.
LOCAL SALES DIP
The country's five carmakers increased exports by 30.5 percent in September from a year earlier to a combined 287,104 units. Domestic sales fell 4.4 percent to 90,843 vehicles.
Overall car sales rose 20 percent to 377,947 units.
Hyundai, the country's top auto maker which controls half the home market, sold a total 193,143 vehicles in September against 170,913 a year ago.
Exports surged 22 percent to 147,079 units from 122,372, helped by European buyers snapping up the Tucson sports utility vehicle. Local sales fell 5.1 percent to 46,046 units.
"Sales of the new Sonata were good, but stopped short of compensating for a decline in sales of all other models, especially larger sedans such as the Grandeur," said Jake Jang, a Hyundai spokesman.
Hyundai sold 10,867 NF Sonatas, which competes with the Camry and Honda Motor Co.'s Accord.
Analysts want to see how Hyundai's new premium sedan fares in the crucial U.S. market, where the South Korean firm is the fourth-biggest foreign carmaker with 2.5 percent market share.
Hyundai's affiliate Kia Motors Corp. said its September sales climbed 17 percent to 96,529 units from a year ago. Exports, buoyed by strong sales in Europe, jumped 29.3 percent to 74,217 vehicles. Domestic sales fell 10.9 percent to 22,312 units.
Exports to Europe, where the compact Picanto and Sorento SUV are gaining in popularity, almost doubled to 26,721 units.
GM Daewoo Automotive and Technology Co., South Korea's third-largest carmaker, said September exports rose 61 percent to 61,347 units, helping total sales to 69,862. Sales of its Kalos and Lacetti sedans in Western Europe bolstered sales.
The world's largest auto maker, General Motors, took a majority stake in some Daewoo Motor assets in 2002, creating the unlisted GM Daewoo.
Stagnant domestic demand hit Renault Samsung Motors Inc., the South Korean unit of French Renault S.A., whose September sales tumbled 18.5 percent to 6,862 units.
Ssangyong Motor Co., which produces the Rexton and Korando SUVs, saw its September sales rise 9.1 percent to 11,069 units.