Sales at South Korean car makers, led by Hyundai Motor, jumped 10% in April as strong exports more than offset weak domestic sales in a slowing economy, Reuters reported.

Racy new models, improved quality and high incentives have helped to make South Korea the world's fifth-largest car producer behind the United States, Japan, Germany and France, Reuters noted.

The country's five car makers -- Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, GM Daewoo, Renault Samsung and Ssangyong Motor -- sold a combined 348,821 vehicles in April, up 10% from 316,942 a year earlier, according to data they issued separately, Reuters said.

Sales at Hyundai Motor rose 14.9% in April to 189,286 units, powered by strong exports of the popular Santa Fe sport utility vehicle and the Sonata mid-sized sedan, Reuters said.

According to Reuters, Hyundai, 10% owned by DaimlerChrysler, said exports in April shot up 41% to 128,988 units, making up for a 17.7% decline in domestic sales.

The news agency said Hyundai had its best ever April in the United States, where sales gained 8.7% from a year earlier to 35,001 units, even as overall US car sales fell sharply for a fourth consecutive month.

Hyundai has joined a relentless price war in the United States, offering cash rebates and extended warranties for many models in March, Reuters noted.

Hyundai ranks seventh in US car sales with a 2.5% market share, just behind Nissan but ahead of Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, Reuters added.

The news agency said analysts were concerned about slowing sales in South Korea. Many did not see consumer spending rebounding any time soon, despite the end of the Iraq war.

Reuters said combined home market sales at the country's five car makers fell 14.7% to 128,926 units in April, though that was more than matched by a 32.7% jump in exports to 219,895.

South Korean consumer confidence tumbled to a 26-month low in March, sapped by worries over North Korea's nuclear ambitions and a big domestic corporate accounting fraud, Reuters added.

The news agency said investors were concerned about internal factors at the car firms, such as simmering labour disputes and rising inventory.

Reuters said Hyundai and its competitors face an uphill battle with labour unions. Negotiations over wages and working hours are set to start in earnest this month, and the new government of Roh Moo-hyun is seen as labour-friendly.

According to Reuters, sales at Kia Motors, a Hyundai affiliate and the second-largest South Korean car maker, rose 7.7% in April from a year earlier, to 99,648 units.

Third-ranked GM Daewoo Auto & Technology Co said sales last month rose slightly to 37,025 units, Reuters said, while Renault Samsung Motors, one of the country's smallest car makers, said it sold 10,075 vehicles last month, up 16% from a year earlier.

Sales at SUV maker Ssangyong Motor fell 8.9% to 12,787 units in April, the news agency said.