SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor said on Tuesday it expects sales in U.S. and China to surge this year, driven by the launch of new electric vehicles and crossovers, after reporting its best quarterly profit in more than three years.
Fourth-quarter profit jumped 57 percent to 1.3 trillion won ($1.2 billion) on demand for high-margin crossovers and its premium Genesis cars, but vehicle sales fell 4.7 percent amid a broader economic weakness due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But profits were hurt by a strong won. The South Korean currency rose about 7 percent against the dollar in the three months to December. A stronger won erodes the value of overseas sales for South Korean companies, and North America is Hyundai's biggest market.
Fourth-quarter revenue rose 5.1 percent to 29.2 trillion won ($26.4 billion), Hyundai said.
For the full year, Hyundai reported a net profit of $1.9 billion, down from $2.9 billion in 2019.
Hyundai said it expects 2021 sales to rise 28 percent to 562,000 vehicles in China where it plans to release the electric version of its Mistra sedan this year.
It estimates that sales in North America will jump 12 percent to 909,000 vehicles. Sales in the fourth quarter slipped 2 percent in the region.
"With our lineup with new models ready to launch in the United States, we aim to increase our market share to 4.8 percent this year," Senior Vice President Koo Za-yong said on an earnings call.
Last year, the company managed to slightly advance its U.S. market share to 4.4 percent, helped by sales of the Palisade crossover and Kona EV, he said, despite a 10 percent fall in sales.
Hyundai had delivered a loss in the third quarter as it provisioned for a big engine quality-related bill.
"Hyundai had a good fourth quarter, especially in the United States, where higher average-selling-price cars such as SUVs saw increasing demand as consumers shun public transit because of COVID-19 and low gasoline prices," said Lee Han-joon, an analyst at KTB Investment & Securities. "Holiday deals helped as well."
Hyundai is making a big push into electric vehicles and has said it will introduce an EV-only platform early this year that will use its own battery technology to cut production time and costs.
Hyundai did not provide on its earnings call any update on recently reported talks between it and Apple about an electric car and battery tie-up.
Analysts expect Hyundai to increase EV sales this year despite a recall of Kona Electric due to fires.