South Korean vehicle and automotive components exports rose 39.6 percent to $32.6 billion last year, the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association (KAMA) said yesterday.

The Korea Herald reported that the sharp increase in auto sales is attributed to improved quality and brand image, broader overseas dealer networks and strengthened marketing abroad, said the industry group.

Last year's auto exports set some new records.

The number of Korean cars sold in North America last year surpassed one million for the first time since Korea began shipping autos to the region in 1984.

A total of 782,982 Korean cars were sold in the United States, marking a 21 percent surge. Hyundai Motor Co. sold 418,615 units accounting for 2.5 percent market share. Kia Motors Corp. and GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co. sold 270,055 (1.6 percent) and 94,312 units (0.5 percent), respectively.

The three carmakers' sales to western Europe also rose 26 percent to 590,851 units, with a market share of 4.1 percent, the Herald report said.

Not only were more vehicles sold, they were sold at higher prices as well.

The average export price per fully assembled unit exceeded $10,000 for the first time. The average price rose continuously from $6,355 in 1998, according to KAMA.

The portion of compact models to total exports dipped from 69 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2004. The percentage of more profitable larger models and recreational vehicles increased from 31 percent to 45 percent.

Ten car models - Hyundai's EF Sonata, New Avante XD, Santa Fe, Click, Verna, Kia's Carnival, Rio, Sorento and GM Daewoo's Kalos and Lacetti - each saw exports of more than 100,000 units in 2004. Sales of the Kalos surpassed 200,000 units.

No single model sold more than 100,000 units domestically last year due to weak demand caused by a lengthy economic slump, according to the manufacturers association, the report said.

Exports of auto parts also hit a high point of $5.9 billion, a 40.3 percent increase from 2003.