Hyundai Motor affiliate Kia Motors delivered welcome good news to the industry today, reporting growth in its full year 2008 global sales, driven in particular by China, which offset declines in some western markets.

The automaker said combined sales of passenger cars, recreation vehicles (RVs) and light trucks last year reached 1,375,738 units, an 8.4% year-on-year increase.

China (151,085 units) and general markets (262,166) posted the largest year-on-year gains of 34.2% and 30.5%, respectively.

Cumulative sales also rose at home in Korea (up 16.2% to 316,432 units) but Europe sales dipped 2.3% to 335,138 and North America was off 8.6% to 310,917.

Sales in China - where some models are assembled locally - last month rose 36.2% year on year to 16,909 units. General export markets and Korea also posted gains of 15.3% to 22,381 and 10% to 27,507 respectively.

Europe sales were off 33.6% to 19,966 and North America down 37.2% to 16,286. Glocal Decemmber sales were up 8.7% overall to 103,049 units.

International business unit head Hyoung-Keun Lee said: "While North America and Europe experienced some year on year loss from a slowdown of sales in the last quarter, Kia experienced market share increases in many markets across these two territories. 

"Furthermore, we have experienced significant gains across China, general markets and in Korea. Despite trying economic conditions, we are confident that we are well positioned, relative to other automakers, to continue to gain market share by satisfying the demand for fuel-efficient and compact vehicles."

Kia's best-selling export model  for the third consecutive year was the C segment Cerato (aka Spectra)with 192,149 units sold, followed by the B segment Rio (153,963).

The Sportage compact SUV and the Slovakia-built C-segment Ceed sold 149,293 and 148,846 units, respectively while the A segment Picanto was fifth (91,262).

Kia's Slovakia plant, which also assembles the Sportage for Europe, has just started building Ceed petrol models with a new stop-start system, boosting fuel economy by up to 15%.