Winterkorn said General Motors was right to keep Opel but the U.S. automaker should now fix the money-losing unit without state help.
Some of VW group's brands don't operate as well he would like but he would never go begging for state aid, Winterkorn said.
"When things are bad, it's the parent company's task to help the daughter company," he said.
Winterkorn didn't name VW's troubled brands but one that he might have been thinking is the group's Spanish unit Seat, which VW had kept despite the unit's large losses in recent years.
He made the remarks as he sat next to Carl-Peter Forster, Opel's former chairman, during a podium discussion at the award ceremony, which is organized by the mass-circulation newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
GM's European operations are heading for a 2.4 billion euro pre-tax loss this year and the carmaker is looking for European governments to help finance a 3 billion-euro reorganization.
After reporting a 1.5 billion euro operating profit for the first nine months, VW is unlikely to be begging for state aid anytime soon.
But if it needs to it can count on its home state of Lower Saxony, which owns a stake of 20 percent VW, to champion its cause.