Hyundai Motor Group has forecast a modest 4.1% increase in car sales this year to 7.4m units with the strong won harming competitiveness.

The projected growth is the lowest since 2007 when the company’s global sales rose 3.9%, according to data compiled by news agency AFP.

“Market environments at home and abroad in 2013 will be very difficult due to the impact of the years-long European debt crisis and global slowdown,” group chairman Chung Mong-Koo said in his New Year message to employees.

Hyundai, together with smaller affiliate Kia, is the world’s fifth-largest automaker.

The group sold 7.12m cars worldwide last year, up 8.0% from 2011. But it has seen growth slow with weakening demand in key US and European markets.

Hyundai, along with other major South Korean exporters, has also struggled with a surge in the local currency that has raised the prices of its vehicles overseas in relation to Japanese rivals.

Chung vowed to increase investment in developing environmentally-friendly vehicles and electronic technologies in a bid to “secure future growth drivers”.

He also stressed the group’s global network, including 30 factories across nine countries, would help drive growth in an unfavourable market. The automaker opened two new plants in China and Brazil last year.

“In order to achieve the sales goal of 7.41m, we should respond to market changes more actively and forge closer cooperation in our globalised networks,” Chung said, according to AFP.