SEOUL - South Korea's Hyundai Motor Group said on Thursday it was aiming to raise its U.S. auto sales by 18.2 percent this year to 1.06 million vehicles, up from its previous target of 1.01 million.

The announcement was made during a visit to the United States by Chung Mong-koo, chairman of the world's fifth-biggest automotive group which includes Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors, reported Reuters.

Hyundai Motor is targeting sales of 624,000 vehicles in the United States this year and Kia Motors 433,000, the statement said. They sold a combined 894,496 cars in the United States last year.

Hyundai and Kia are among the fastest-growing automakers in the U.S. market, with their combined share reaching 10.1 percent as of May this year from 7.7 percent last year and 3.3 percent in 2001.

They plan to launch the new Veloster utility coupe and Rio subcompact in the United States to maintain their sales momentum.

South Korean media speculated Chung's visit may be linked to Hyundai Motor's possible construction of a second plant to meet booming demand in the world's second-biggest auto market. The company, which currently runs a plant in Alabama producing the Sonata sedan and Elantra compact, has denied plans for a second U.S. factory.

Chung met the governors of Alabama and Georgia and visited Hyundai and Kia facilities in the United States, Hyundai Motor said in a statement. Kia's U.S. plant is located in Georgia and manufactures the Sorento SUV and Hyundai's Santa Fe SUV.

Shares in Hyundai and Kia were up 0.6 percent and 0.7 percent respectively as of 0151 GMT, in a nearly flat market .