Volkswagen Q1 profits leap 86 pct

Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker, said Thursday that profits raced ahead in the first three months of this year, driven by strong demand worldwide for all of its brands.

VW said in a statement it booked net profit of 3.186 billion euros ($4.222 billion) in the period from January to March, an increase of 86 percent from a year earlier.

Underlying earnings, as measured by operating profit, revved up 10.2 percent to 3.209 billion euros, as the auto giant sold 11.3 percent more vehicles -- 2.26 million worldwide -- in the three-month period, it said.

Revenues motored ahead 26.3 percent to 47.326 billion euros.

The numbers beat analysts' expectations, driving VW shares 5.6 percent higher on the Frankfurt stock exchange to 133.25 euros.

VW attributed its better-than-expected performance to "strong demand for its group models worldwide."

The group -- whose brands cover VW, Audi, Skoda, SEAT and Bentley in the passenger car sector and MAN and Scania in trucks -- said it outperformed the market in all regions and its share of the global passenger car market increased to 12.2 percent from 11.9 percent previously.

The top-of-the-range unit Audi recently announced its acquisition of Ducati, the Italian maker of some of the most sought-after high-speed motorcycles in the industry.

VW said it hoped to expand its market position still further with the launch of a large number of new models this year.

On the back of this, "we expect to increase deliveries to customers year-on-year ... and group sales will exceed the prior-year figure" of 159.3 billion euros, it said.

On the level of earnings, "our goal for operating profit is to match the 2011 level" of 11.3 billion euros, VW said.

Nevertheless, the group was facing "increasingly stiff competition in a challenging market environment, especially in certain European countries," it cautioned.

Sales in western Europe, currently trying to fight off recession in wake of the debt crisis, dipped by 1.2 percent in the first quarter, with declines of 17.3 percent seen in Italy and 9.0 percent in Spain.

By contrast, sales in central and eastern Europe rose by 35.1 percent in the January-March period, North American sales were up 24.5 percent and sales in China gained 15.6 percent.

Among the different brands, unit sales of both the VW and Audi brands rose by just over 10 percent. The only brand to sustain a drop in business was SEAT of Spain, where unit sales fell by 11.6 percent and its operating loss widened to 29 million euros.

Overall, chief executive Martin Winterkorn said he viewed the coming months "with confidence".

By comparison, French carmakers PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault both saw business decline at the start of the year, while US makers such as Chrysler, on the other hand, saw profits rise sharply.

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