LG Electronics Inc on Thursday launched liquid crystal display (LCD) televisions that use light-emitting diodes (LED) as a light source, and said it was aiming to sell as many as 5 million units in 2010.

The South Korean flat-screen TV maker also reiterated its previously stated goal of selling 18 million LCD sets in 2009, to become the world's second-largest maker of LCD televisions after domestic rival Samsung Electronics and ahead of Japan's Sony.

Despite the global economic downturn that has devastated the consumer electronics sector worldwide, makers of flat-screen televisions have managed to weather the slowdown better than other industries.

LG and Samsung are betting on LED-backlit LCD televisions as future profit drivers in their display divisions. LED televisions are about a third thinner than older models using cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs), have longer lifespans and offer more vivid images, with greater contrast and color range.

Simon Kang, chief executive of LG's home entertainment division, said the company was on track to achieve its earlier stated target of 18 million LCD televisions, adding that internal targets could be stretched even more.

LG said LED televisions, which make up only 2.6 percent of the total LCD set market, could represent as much as 20 percent of the market in 2010 and 40 percent of the total market in 2011.

The popularity of the new models will depend heavily on consumer acceptance of a significant price premium, which is anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent over traditional LCD TVs. But LG expects the price differential to narrow rapidly to about 40-50 percent in 2010 and closer to parity in 2011.

LCD TVs make up about 60 percent of global TV shipments, according to research group DisplaySearch. LED TV sales are expected to grow more than tenfold this year to about 2 million units out of total LCD TV sales of 120 million.

The popularity of LED backlit LCDs is surging in the notebook and desktop computer markets, where DisplaySearch expects a penetration rate of 25 percent by the fourth quarter of this year, from about 12 percent in the first quarter.

Shares in LG Electronics rose 2.18 percent to 117,000 won on Thursday, in line with the broader market's 2.12 percent gain.

(Reporting by Marie-France Han; Editing by Chris Lewis)