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S. Korean Auto Sales Gain 11 pct in March
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South Korea's five automakers, led by market leader Hyundai Motor Co., reported an 11 percent on-year sales increase in March, fueled mainly by a solid rise in overseas demand, data showed Monday.

The combined sales of the carmakers came to 722,212 vehicles last month, compared with 649,747 units sold a year earlier, according to the data released by the companies.

Domestic shipments dropped nearly 11 percent on-year to a combined 120,175 last month. Overseas sales, including cars exported from South Korea and vehicles assembled at foreign plants, reached 602,036 units, up around 16 percent from 516,555 a year earlier.

The country's automakers also include Kia Motors Corp., GM Korea, Renault Samsung Motors Co. and Ssangyong Motor Co.

"Sales of the country's top three carmakers moved up last month compared to a year earlier, but smaller-sized carmakers reported downturns mainly due to sluggish domestic demand," an industry insider said.

Hyundai, Kia and GM Korea are the country's three largest automotive companies.

He said weak sales in the domestic market were offset by solid gains abroad as leading South Korean carmakers make steady inroads abroad.

"Even domestic sales numbers for giants like Hyundai and Kia contracted compared to the year before as the slow pace of economic growth hurt consumption," the source said.

Hyundai and Kia, flagship companies of Hyundai Motor Group, the world's fifth-largest carmaker, reported global sales gains of 17.9 percent and 7 percent, respectively, with GM Korea, the local unit of U.S. auto giant General Motors Co., saying sales jumped 13.6 percent.

Sales for Renault Samsung and Ssangyong were down 42.4 percent and 10.1 percent respectively.

"Despite the Avante compact becoming the No.1 best-selling car in the country, domestic sales were down across the board," said a spokesperson for Hyundai.

This view was echoed by a Kia executive who said that despite the launch of the popular Ray crossover utility vehicle, the local market remained weak.

GM Korea, however, said that its customer-oriented after-sales and marketing programs and popularity of its Spark mini-car and Alpheon luxury sedan allowed the carmaker to post a 10.3 percent rise in sales in both the local and foreign markets.

"We expect domestic demand to maintain its growth throughout 2012," said Ankush Arora, the company's vehicle sales vice president.

On exports, Hyundai, Kia, and GM Korea, which makes cars under its Chevrolet brand, claimed greater overall competitiveness based on quality improvements contributed to solid market gains last month.

The three carmakers said the release of new or refreshed models should ensure steady overseas market gains in the near future.

Local carmakers added more efforts will be made to maintain tight quality control to win over the confidence of prospective foreign car buyers as competition from Japan, the United States and Europe is expected to heat up.

Market watchers and carmakers, meanwhile, said lingering global economic uncertainty is affecting sales in the industry in 2012, although South Korean companies may be able to expand their presence by offering affordable and quality cars.

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Source: Yonhap News (Apr. 3, 2012)

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