Volkswagen Group says it is bracing for a tough year ahead, though the automaker believes business may improve in the second half as overseas markets keep growing.
"The coming months will be anything but easy," CEO Martin Winterkorn said today at VW's annual shareholders' meeting.
Except for North America and China, all regions were marked "by often significant uncertainty," he said, adding that core European markets would remain "extremely weak" for the foreseeable future.
Volkswagen sales in the United States rose 9 percent in the first quarter in an overall market that posted a 6 percent gain.
Europe's No. 1 automaker expects to "pick up speed" over the remainder of 2013 and will stick with full-year targets "despite all economic uncertainties," Winterkorn said.
On Wednesday, VW reported a 26 percent drop in first-quarter operating profit to 2.34 billion euros ($3.04 billion), though it stood by goals to match last year's record earnings of 11.5 billion euros and to push sales and deliveries to new records.
"Regardless of whether we're in an upturn or downturn, it's our goal to ensure that VW reaches the top of the automotive industry by 2018," Winterkorn said.
As part of its growth push, the company plans to open 1,500 sales outlets in growth regions in the medium term, adding to its network of 20,000 dealers around the world, Winterkorn said.
VW's presence in China, Brazil and Russia has enabled it to steer through the European industry gloom better than mass-market rivals such as PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Europe's second-largest carmaker. PSA is eliminating jobs and closing a factory to end losses as the region's auto market shows no signs of a rebound. Ford, which expects to lose about $2 billion in Europe this year, will close three plants in Europe by 2014.
VW Group also plans to roll out 60 new and updated models this year, the company said.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report