S Korean car makers Sept sales hit by holiday

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SEOUL, Oct 1 (Reuters) Combined September sales at Hyundai Motor Co. <005380.KS> and other South Korean auto makers fell 16 percent from a year ago, hit by a three-day Thanksgiving holiday and amid weakness in the U.S. economy.

A slowdown in the world's top economy is expected to put pressure on U.S. demand for South Korean cars, especially those made by Hyundai, as the fallout from subprime mortgage sector problems may not diminish soon, analysts said.

''U.S. car demand is not likely to rebound unless the whole economy revives on a recovery in housing sector,'' said Kim Jae-woo, an auto analyst at Mirae Asset Securities.

Hyundai, the world's No. 6 auto maker along with its affiliate with Kia Motors Corp. <000270.KS>, is unlikely to meet its U.S.

sales target for this year without a recovery in the U.S. economy, Kim added.

In August, Hyundai slashed its U.S. sales target for this year to 510,000 vehicles from the previous 555,000 and Steve Wilhite, chief operating officer of Hyundai Motor America, left the company last month.

Hyundai sold 325,193 vehicles in the world's top auto market during the first eight months of this year, 0.2 percent lower than a year ago. The company sold 455,520 cars last year in the United States.

In September, Hyundai's overseas sales fell 26.5 percent from a year ago to 140,026 vehicles. The company did not provide U.S. sales figure for the month.

Shares in Hyundai ended down 0.81 percent to 73,300 won, underperforming a 0.83 percent rise in the broader market <.KS11>.

Still, the impact on Hyundai's sales in the U.S. from an economic slowdown is expected to be limited as it sells mainly compact models, some analysts say.

''Overall, U.S. car demand is slow due to a weak housing sector.

But its impact on Hyundai would be capped as its main models are compact cars such as the Elantra, which are not hit by a economic slowdown,'' said Choi Dae-sik, analyst at CJ Investment Securities.

South Korea's five auto makers sold a combined 389,919 vehicles in September, down from 464,225 units a year ago, as working days were reduced the Chuseok thanksgiving holidays, according to companies' data.

The Chuseok Thanksgiving holiday fell in September this year and lasted three days while it was in October and lasted two days in 2006.

The five companies' overseas sales dropped 14.5 percent to 298,962 cars from a year earlier while domestic sales fell 20.5 percent.

Auto exports, which account for 10 percent of all South Korean exports, declined an estimated 19.1 percent in value in September from a year ago, Commerce Ministry data showed.

Shares in Kia closed down 1.61 percent at 12,250 won and Ssangyong Motor Co. <003620.KS> fell 1.52 percent to 5,830 won.


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