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Yonhap News Agency reported that Renault-Samsung Motors said Tuesday its profits amounted to 166 billion won ($US135 million) last year on sales of 1.77 trillion won ($1.43 billion), closing its books in the black for the first time since the launch of its operations.

The automaker’s president Jerome Stoll said the company plans to unveil a luxury sedan and a sport-utility vehicle between 2004-2005, and it will spend 120 billion won on expanding facilities this year. He said he could not ruled out the possibility that the automaker’s second plant will be built not in the country but overseas during 2005-2006 in consideration of exports and operating costs.

Stoll told reporters the firm made a profit two years ahead of schedule due to the rising sales of its [Nissan-based] SM5 and SM3 models as well as cost reductions. Its sales figure jumped 60% in 2002 compared to the previous year.

He said the automaker set this year’s sales target at 136,000, including 134,000 for domestic sales and 2,000 for exports, up 16.2% from last year. It hopes to increase sales this year by 10.8%, to 1.96 trillion won, with the company’s domestic car market share jumping to 11.4% from 9.4% last year.

The firm’s president said Renault-Samsung is already developing a third luxury car model, code-named EX, and the company has also been reviewing a plan for a fourth car model with an intention to introduce a new car model every year. He said the fourth model would most likely be an SUV.

The company also plans to upgrade existing models such as the SM5 and SM3 or introduce the 2004 model.

Stoll said the company will hire 800 new employees, including 100 engineers, under a plan to strengthen its design and research institutes.

The firm will increase the number of its dealers from 130 to 153 this year and set up 40% more car service centres.

The company also plans to expand the production capacity of its Busan plant from the current 240,000 units to 300,000 per year under its plan to expand total capacity to 500,000 by 2010, with 250,000 intended for overseas markets.