South Korean carmakers, led by Hyundai Motor, increased sales by 49% in July, with exports racing ahead to offset falling sales at home where consumer spending has been hobbled by big debts, Reuters said.

Analysts told the news agency that, despite the planned launch of new models on the home market, the outlook is clouded by rising labour costs and slowing economic growth in China.

The country’s five manufacturers reportedy saw exports jump 94% from July last year to a combined 262,966 units, while domestic sales slid 13.5% to 84,840 vehicles.

Hyundai July sales nearly doubled to 186,929 vehicles from 97,702 while its exports surged to 142,815 units from 57,494 units a year earlier when production was hit by a 45-day strike that stretched from late June until early August, Reuters said.

Hyundai’s local sales rose 10% to 44,114 units. “Last year, there was an extended strike that hampered operations severely,” a Hyundai spokesman told the news agency. “The jump in numbers was largely due to a low base effect.”

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Hyundai reportedly sold a total of 196,242 vehicles in June, including a monthly export record of 149,921 units.

Hyundai’s affiliate Kia Motors Corp. said its July sales rose 27% to 77,843 units, buoyed by a 52% jump in exports to Europe, Reuters said.

Kia, which last week slashed its 2004 local sales target to 295,000 vehicles from a previous 450,000 units, reportedly saw domestic sales fall 17% to 19,122 units in July.

According to Reuters, GM Daewoo Automotive and Technology said July exports rose 59% to 59,195 units, taking total sales to 67,097 – exports of its small Kalos and Lacetti sedans to Western Europe bolstered sales.

Stagnant domestic demand hit SUV maker Ssangyong Motor Co. whose July sales tumbled 29% to 8,913, while Renault Samsung Motors saw its July sales slump by 48% to 7,024 units, the report added.