carmakers-March sales

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korean auto sales increased 0.1 percent in March from a year earlier despite a protracted economic downturn at home and abroad, data released by the country's five carmakers showed Monday.

The combined sales of the five carmakers led by industry leader Hyundai Motor Co. came in at 725,661 units in March, compared with 724,623 vehicles sold a year ago, according to the data.

The figure represents an 11.5 percent jump from February when the carmakers sold a total of 650,640 units.

The other four automakers are Hyundai's smaller sister company Kia Motors Corp., GM Korea, Renault Samsung Motors Co. and Ssangyong Motor Co.

In March, the combined domestic sales dropped 1.6 percent on-year to 118,217 units in March while overseas sales increased 0.5 percent on-year to 607,444 units.

The carmakers attributed the slight improvement in sales to a series of new cars despite an economic slowdown at home and abroad.

Hyundai Motor, South Korea's largest automaker, said it sold 388,539 vehicles last month, compared with 385,080 units from a year ago.

Kia, South Korea's second-biggest automaker, sold 236,081 vehicles last month, down 1.8 percent in March from a year ago.

Kia's Morning mini car was the best-selling car in March, with 8,823 units sold, narrowly beating Hyundai's Avante compact with 8,346 units.

Hyundai and Kia, the flagship companies of Hyundai Motor Group, the world's fifth-largest automotive group, dominated the local car market with a combined share of 80.8 percent in March.

GM Korea Co., the local unit of U.S. automaker General Motors Co., said it sold 78,203 vehicles in March, up 1.8 percent from a year ago due to robust sales at home and abroad.

"Our sales are being driven by the high level of recognition among consumers for our new products such as the Chevrolet Trax," said Ankush Arora, GM Korea vice president in charge of vehicle sales, service and marketing.

The company unveiled the new Chevrolet Trax global small sport utility vehicle in February in a bid to strengthen its presence in the SUV segment in South Korea.

GM Korea garnered an 11 percent market share in South Korea last month, and is followed by Ssangyong Motor Co. with 4.2 percent.

Ssangyong Motor Co., the local unit of Indian sport utility vehicle maker Mahindra