INGOLSTADT, Germany -- The luxury Audi unit of Volkswagen said on Wednesday it had sold fewer Audi brand cars in the first quarter and said it could not confirm its goal of steady profits in the full year.
Addressing an annual shareholders' meeting, Audi chief Martin Winterkorn said he expected the company to post a "strong profit" in 2003, but said the car market remained weak and that the strength of the euro was also taking its toll.
"The situation in the car market is characterized by difficult economic conditions," Winterkorn said. "Negative currency developments, particularly the strength of the euro against the dollar, are an additional burden."
His comments were more cautious than those made in February by then finance chief Peter Abele, who said earnings in 2003 would roughly match last year's level, when Audi posted a pre-tax profit of 1.25 billion euros ($1.4 billion).
An Audi spokesman said the company did not currently want to confirm that goal because of the weak market conditions.
"But we will do everything to try to reach it," he said.
Audi, which generated close to a third of parent group VW's profit last year, nonetheless repeated it expected an eighth straight year of record sales, boosted by recent revamps of its small A3 hatchback and its high-margin A8 executive saloon.
Audi brand unit sales slipped 0.5 percent to 181,825 vehicles in the first quarter, while group unit sales -- which include sales at the Lamborghini brand and Italian importer Autogerma -- rose slightly to over 250,000 cars.
The VW group as a whole expects its profits to fall this year after a dismal first quarter, when the strong euro, the cost of developing new models and equity writedowns hammered core earnings down by over two thirds.