VW targets market share during crisis
Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker, threw down the gauntlet to rivals on Monday, saying 2008 profit had gained 15 percent and predicting it would gain market share during the global auto sector crisis.
But like its rivals, VW warned that sales and earnings this year would be lower, after posting a 2008 profit of €4.75 billion ($6.0 billion) on sales that rose 4.5 percent to a record €113.8 billion.
"We met our target and surpassed our record results for 2007 even though conditions were tougher," chairman Martin Winterkorn said in a statement.
VW said it aimed to do better than the sector as a whole this year and "will be able to gain additional market share during the crisis," which has seen auto sales run into walls around the world.
In February, Japanese car, truck and bus purchases dropped 32.4 percent from a year earlier to 218,212 vehicles, the steepest decline for that month since 1974, the Japan Automobile Dealers' Association said Monday.
French car sales plunged by 13.1 percent in February, and in the United States, sales showed some improvement in the first three weeks of the month from January, but were still forecast to be 39 percent lower than a year earlier, analysts said last week.
Winterkorn acknowledged that "the current year remains extremely difficult for the entire automotive industry," but added: "Our target is to fare better than the overall market."
VW has already said it aims to overtake Japanese rival Toyota and become the world's leading auto manufacturer by 2018. Audi, VW's high-end line, said Monday that it aimed to overtake domestic rivals BMW and Mercedes next year in Europe despite the market slump.
For 2008, VW posted a rise in operating profit of 3.0 percent to €6.3 billion, and the group's stock dividend was increased seven percent to €1.93 per share. The company said it could not give specific guidance for this year however.
"High volatility of market developments does not currently permit any reliable forecasts to be made for fiscal year 2009.
"Based on the extremely weak business at the beginning of the year, earnings will not reach the high levels of previous years," it added.
VW will present full results during a press conference on March 12. The company is also placing its hopes on more environmentally friendly vehicles and said that 24 models currently emit less that 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, meeting a strict European Union target mooted for 2012.
VW last month announced a tie-up with Japanese electronics group Toshiba to develop electric drive units and other elements that VW said will allow it to become the first manufacturer of an affordable, mass produced electric vehicle. And it plans to double overall sales in China to more than two million units a year by 2018.
The German group has invested heavily in emerging markets like China and Brazil, and has resisted the auto crisis better than many competitors as a result.
"We are well-positioned to emerge strengthened from the crisis," Winterkorn said Monday.