Last Updated Oct 6, 2009 10:15 AM EDT
U.S. light-vehicle sales, including cars and light trucks, fell 22.7 percent in September versus the year-ago month, to 745,997, according to AutoData Corp. That was thanks in part to payback from "Cash for Clunkers." Year-to-date sales were down 27.4 percent to 7.8 million.
The closely watched Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate for September was about 9.2 million, falling back to pre-clunker levels, but at least the SAAR fell no further.
In contrast, Hyundai sales in September were up 27.2 percent from the year-ago month to 31,511; year to date, Hyundai's U.S. sales were up 1.3 percent to 342,217. Kia sales gained 24.4 percent in September to 21,623; year-to-date sales were up 4.6 percent to 238,570.
Together, the two brands - both are controlled by the Hyundai Group - had a U.S. market share through September of 5.2 percent, slowly gaining on Nissan North America, with 7.3 percent.
"We are cautiously optimistic during these challenging times," said Dave Zuchowski, vice president of sales for Hyundai Motor America.
Analysts said a favorable exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the South Korean won is making it easier for Hyundai and Kia to pursue their strategy of providing a high level of standard equipment at a relatively low sticker price.
That raises the value back home for dollar-denominated profits. The advantage could be worth up to a couple of thousand dollars per car.
New and distinctive styling is also likely playing a big role in the brands' recent success.