PRAGUE -- Volkswagen AG's Czech unit Skoda Auto said on Monday its worldwide sales dropped by 3.2 percent last year, short of the company's original plans but an improvement from a 6.5-percent drop in the first three quarters.
Skoda, the largest Czech company by turnover and the leader of the country's automotive industry, said it sold a total of 445,525 cars last year. The result was in line with Skoda's forecasts following the first three quarters.
"(The drop) was caused mainly by a continued slowdown on important car markets in Europe, the strong rate of the Czech currency, which benefits imports, and by devastating floods in the summer which hit important markets in the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria," the company said.
It added in a statement that in the first half there was an unfavourable basis for comparison due to the end of production of the popular Felicia hatchback in 2001 and its gradual substitution by a new model, the Fabia.
Skoda, the country's biggest exporter, gave no financial results. It posted a 1.55 billion-crown ($52.5 million) net profit for the first nine months of 2002, and forecast in early 2002 substantially higher net profit for that year, compared to the 2.13 billion crowns earned in 2001.
Skoda said 2002 domestic sales reached 74,466 cars. Sales in Germany, a key export market, rose by 1.1 percent to 67,656, better than the market which shrunk by 2.6 percent.
The company said it had been looking at eastern markets such as Russia for further growth. It made no forecasts for 2003.