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UPDATE 1-Hyundai results on car return program encouraging

DETROIT, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Hyundai Motor Co 005380.KS has seen encouraging results from its program that allows customers to return a new car if they lose their jobs within 12 months of purchase, a company executive said on Wednesday.

Hyundai, whose sales plunged 48 percent in December, has seen U.S. sales rise in the first half of January from a year earlier, the automaker said in a presentation to the Automotive News World Congress.

“It’s too early to say what it is going to look like for January, but the early results are promising,” John Krafcik, acting president and chief executive of Hyundai Motors America, said of the car return program.

Hyundai rolled out the incentive program on Jan. 3 after an internal study found customers believed car deals were good in general, but job concerns had pushed many out of the market.

“The automotive public’s major concern right now is their own confidence,” Krafcik said, calling the car return program “reassuring” to consumers and resulting in increased requests for quick price quotes and Internet traffic from consumers.

U.S. auto industry sales fell 18 percent to 13.2 million vehicles in 2008 and most analysts and auto executives expect sales to decline in 2009 as well, a fourth consecutive year of declines amid the global economic turmoil.

“It looks like we will be able to gain a reasonable chunk of market share comparing this January ‘09 to January ‘08,” Krafcik said. (Reporting by David Bailey,editing by Leslie Gevirtz)