SEOUL -- South Korean car makers, led by Hyundai Motor Co., reported a lofty 26 percent rise in November vehicle sales as customers in Europe, China and the United States snapped up low priced, compact models.
But analysts warned a stronger won currency, stubbornly weak local demand, soaring steel prices and uncertain prospects for the global economy had darkened the 2005 outlook.
The country's five car makers increased exports by 37.3 percent in November from a year earlier to a combined 350,506 units. Domestic sales fell 4.6 percent to 94,024 vehicles.
Overall car sales rose 25.6 percent to 444,530 units.
Hyundai has benefited from the launch of new models, such as its NF Sonata passenger sedan and Tucson SUV this year, to counter a sales slump at home and fan already healthy export growth.
Smaller rivals are also trying to crank out new models and stimulate demand by offering profit squeezing incentives.
"So far, domestic automakers held out very well on the export front, but the overall picture for next year looks a bit murky now with a slew of uncertainties," said Song Sang-hoon, a Hyundai Securities analyst.
"It's still too early to say for sure when there will be a turnaround in the domestic market," he said.
Hyundai, which controls half the home market, sold a total 223,698 vehicles in November, compared with 186,511 a year ago.
Exports surged 27.5 percent to 175,194 units from 137,456, helped by European buyers snapping up the Santa Fe and Tucson sport-utility vehicles.
Still suffering from a soured consumer spending boom, local sales fell 1 percent to 48,504 units from a year ago. But they were slightly up from October's 46,730 units.
"The company continued its march of record monthly sales, helped by rocketing exports and aggressive marketing in the home market," said Hyundai spokesman Park Sang-woo.
Last week, Moody's Investors Service raised its credit ratings on Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors Corp., citing improving overall earnings and credit profile.
Moody's said revenue growth at South Korea's top car firm had been strengthened by successful model renewal and export sales.
Hyundai's flagship NF Sonata sedan competes with Toyota Motor Corp.'s 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 a 2.5 percent market share.
Hyundai affiliate Kia said its November sales climbed 28.4 percent to 109,694 units from a year ago. Exports, buoyed by a 79 percent jump in European sales, soared 45 percent to 87,386 vehicles. Domestic sales fell 11.2 percent to 17,556 units.
GM Daewoo Automotive and Technology Co., South Korea's third-largest carmaker, posted record monthly sales of 92,394 units in November, driven by a 30 percent rise in exports.
Sales of its Kalos and Lacetti sedan in Western Europe bolstered sales, GM Daewoo said.
The world's largest automaker, General Motors, took a majority stake in some Daewoo Motor assets in 2002, creating the unlisted GM Daewoo.
SUV maker Ssangyong Motor Co., recently acquired by a Chinese auto firm for about $500 million, saw its November sales fall 3.2 percent to 11,881 units.
Renault Samsung Motors Inc., the South Korean unit of French Renault S.A., said November sales rose 2.9 percent to 6,863 units.