The redesigned Kia Opirus luxury sedan sold 3,001 units last month, up 66.9% from 1,798 units in June.

The new model outpaced Hyundai's flagship Equus (929 units) and Ssangyong's new Chairman luxury sedan (1,061 units) by a wide margin despite poor sales overall due to the recent industry-wide partial strikes over pay, the Korea Herald reported.

The report said the updated Opirus was top luxury sedan for the second straight month, while breaking the monthly sales record which was set in April 2003 when it sold 2,833 units.

Although the overall Korean market remained gloomy, some models fared well in July. In addition to the new Opirus, Kia saw a sales increase for its recently redesigned Carnival (Sedona) multipurpose car or minivan.

GM Daewoo Auto & Technology also increased sales with its first SUV - the new Winstorm, now being launched overseas as the Chevrolet Captiva. It sold 2,916 units last month, emerging as the No. 2 SUV after Hyundai's recently redesigned Santa Fe.

The newspaper said the Winstorm is receiving positive reviews from customers amid growing sales, suggesting that it will compete with Hyundai and other car makers to expand its share.

Renault Samsung Motors also staged a strong rally in the sedan market as sales of its popular SM5 - essentially a mildy reworked Nissan design - rose 4% quarter-on-quarter to 6,037 units in July, beating its bigger Hyundai Sonata rival.

But Hyundai's poor performance was largely due to industrial action by unionised workers who demanded pay raises and bigger incentives. Although Hyundai management finally settled the dispute, the company saw an across-the-board decline in sales during the partial strike period.

Korean automakers, led by Hyundai, posted a 16% decline in sales in July, hurt by the industry-wide strikes, the Korea Herald noted.

And analysts have warned the near-term outlook for the Korean automakers may be clouded by the triple challenges of high-flying oil prices, the won's sharp rise against the US dollar and rising steel prices.

Overall, the nation's five automakers sold 362,948 vehicles at home and overseas last month. Exports declined 12.7% to 288,043 units with domestic sales falling 26.5% to 74,905 units.

Meanwhile Kia Motors Europe said it would launch the latest Opirus in Europe at the Paris motor show on 28 September ahead of sales starting next January.

It will be sold only in left-hand drive markets, however, which rules out the UK and Ireland, as well as smaller territories such as Malta and Cyprus.

"Last year, sales of E-segment gasoline models in the top four European markets slipped by almost 16% and that trend is continuing in 2006," said Kia Motors Europe senior vice president Jean-Charles Lievens.

"However, Opirus sales this year are up by 21% and I´m sure they will accelerate strongly next year when the 2007 model arrives in showrooms."

The new European-specification version has a new 266PS/196kW 3.8-litre petrol V6 in place of the previous 3.5-litre unit and five-speed automatic transmission.

Equipment includes electronically controlled suspension system with updated software.

Kia has made no individual market forecasts but said it plans to double Opirus global sales to more than 100,000 units a year by 2010.