SEOUL/LOS ANGELES, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- Hyundai Motor Group, the world's fifth-largest automotive conglomerate, said Tuesday that sales in the US and China got off to a good start in January, thanks to demand for its compact cars and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
The rise in sales in the world's two largest markets is in contrast to the 0.3 percent dip in sales for cars made by Hyundai Motor Co. in South Korea and around the world last month. Kia Motors Corp. sales were also down 1.3 percent on-year in January.
Hyundai Motor America (HMA) and Kia Motors America, the distribution and marketing arms of the group's flagship companies, said sales were up 1 percent and 2 percent, respectively, in the one month period, compared with a year earlier.
HMA said it sold 44,005 units last month, the best sales figures for January since the South Korean carmaker started selling vehicles in the United States in 1986.
Of the total, sales of the Elantra compact, which has recently undergone a refresh, hit 15,326 units, up a sharp 25.9 percent from the previous year's tally of 12,174 vehicles.
The popular Santa Fe SUV, sold in both the "Sport" and long-wheel-base models, did well with sales climbing 12.2 percent to 6,721 units.
On the down side, sales of Hyundai's bread-and-butter Sonata midsize car fell to below the 10,000 unit norm to 9,815 units.
The carmaker said the dip in sales may be a reflection of consumers waiting to see the seventh-generation Sonata, which will make its global debut at the New York International Auto Show in April.
Kia America said its sales hit 37,011 vehicles, with its boxy Soul and Forte compact sedan contributing to better figures.
The Soul and the Forte are all new models introduced by the carmaker that have received positive publicity in recent months.
Sales of the Soul grew 9.6 percent on-year to 8,092 units, with the Forte's numbers rising 7.2 percent to 4,724.
Like its bigger sibling, Kia said sales of the Optima midsize sedan, which shares the same basic architecture as the Hyundai Sonata, fell 11.3 percent to 9,979 units.
HMA and Kia America have both said that they plan to strive to build up their "quality" image in the new year.
Hyundai said it will introduce its second-generation Genesis sedan in the U.S. this spring, which could greatly bolster its consumer perception as a brand that makes quality cars, while Kia is expected to launch the K900 luxury sedan, which can elevate its nameplate in the market.
In the fast growing Chinese market, combined sales of Hyundai and Kia reached a monthly record of 175,224 units.
The numbers represent a 7 percent gain from 163,090 vehicles sold in the first month of 2013. Sales of Hyundai cars hit 115,198 units, with numbers for Kia standing at 60,026.
Beijing Hyundai Motor Co., the South Korean carmaker's Chinese affiliate, said sales of its Verna subcompact, Langdong and Yuedong compacts, and Mistra mid-size sedan propped up sales along with demand for its Tucson ix compact sport utility vehicle (SUV).
In particular, the Mistra, released only two months ago, posted sales reaching 11,749 units. Its popularity is seen as a sign of Hyundai making headway into the mid-size car market in China.
Dongfeng Yueda Kia Automobile Co., Kia's joint venture in China, said sales of its K2, K3, K5 and Sportage R SUV all surpassed the 5,000 unit mark in the cited month. These vehicles made up 71.8 percent of all Kia sales in the Chinese market.
Hyundai and Kia said that the China automobile market may grow 11.6 percent on year to 16.92 million units in 2014. They plan to cope with stiffer competition by improving their brand images and tightening quality control. The two are in the process of expanding local production that can deal with output falling short of demand.
Hyundai said it wants to sell 1.08 million cars in China, while Kia has set its goal at 630,000 units for this year.