General Motors' South Korean unit expects exports this year to almost double to 250,000 units and hit 300,000 in 2004, as shipments to North America and the Middle East resume, Reuters reported.

Shipments to the key U.S. market, as well as to Canada and the Middle East, took a hit in the late 1990s due to the financial difficulties at parent Daewoo Group, which collapsed under massive debts in 1998, the news agency noted.

Now, GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co, which is being used by the US giant as a platform for its Asian operations, represents only the second case in South Korea's closed car market where an overseas maker has been able to gain a production foothold, Reuters said.

"We see exports to the United States and Canada resuming in the second half of this year," GM Daewoo spokesman Kim Sang-won quoted company CEO Nick Reilly as saying at a news conference in Pupyong, an industrial city west of Seoul, according to Reuters.

GM Daewoo has agreed to buy all of the Pupyong plant's output, but does not own that plant, the news agency noted.

GM earlier announced that several new Daewoo models would be shipped to the US from this year with either Suzuki or Chevrolet branding.

GM Daewoo, which holds 10.6% of the South Korean car market, reportedly said it expects total sales to rise to 510,000 units this year from 377,000 a year ago, largely due to aggressive marketing and zero interest financing for two compact models launched last year.

The total figures include cars exported as knockdown kits for assembly at overseas plants, Daewoo said, according to Reuters.

Reilly reportedly said that the car maker plans to speed the release of the SUV and large sedan, but did not give a time frame, according to the company spokesman cited by Reuters.

According to Reuters, GM said separately that it had launched its latest car model in China, the Buick Excelle, based on the small-to-mid-sized Daewoo Lacetti car.

A subcompact and a mid-sized sedan also were launched, based on GM Daewoo's Matiz and Magnus models, GM said in a statement cited by Reuters.