LOS ANGELES -- The Hyundai-Kia group posted record U.S. sales of 1.3 million units in 2012, but its market share declined for the first time in 20 years.
The slowdown was caused by limited vehicle supplies and resurgent competition from Japanese brands, which bounced back after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
In December, Kia sales fell by 10 percent, its first monthly decline in more than two years. Kia spokesman Scott McKee declined to comment on the reasons for the December sales decline.
Despite the December hiccup, Kia sold a record 557,599 vehicles in the U.S. market last year, up 15 percent compared with the overall U.S. auto industry's 13 percent gain.
For the Hyundai brand, U.S. sales rose 17 percent in December, capping off a 9 percent sales increase for the full year to a record 703,007 vehicles.
But the brand's 9 percent increase last year lagged the U.S. industry's 13 percent growth rate, pulling down its market share to 4.9 percent from 5.1 percent in 2011.
"We closed 2012 with strong demand in both volume and premium segments, and all-time sales records for December and the full year," John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America CEO, said in a statement.
Supplies of the crucial Sonata mid-sized sedan and Elantra compact sedan, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of Hyundai's 2012 sales, were tight last year. Inventories should improve in 2013.
In September, Hyundai launched a third shift at its plant where the vehicles are built in Montgomery, Ala. The plant also builds the Santa Fe Sport compact crossover. Krafcik said the extra production will help Hyundai better meet demand in 2013 for its three top-selling vehicles.
"Our momentum over the last several months, paired with improved inventory levels and the launch of seven new or refreshed products in 2012, positions us for continued growth in the new year, especially with the seven-passenger version of the new Santa Fe set to launch in the next few weeks," Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai's executive vice president of sales, said in a statement.
After a relatively quiet year in 2012, Kia is poised for a big year on the new product front in 2013. In a statement, Kia Motors America CEO Byung Mo Ahn said the brand plans to launch seven new or reworked vehicles in the next 12 months.