Rapid growth at Volkswagen Group has convinced CEO Martin Winterkorn that the company not only will be the first automaker to sell 10 million cars in a year but will do so before his target of 2018.
Since Winterkorn took over for Bernd Pischetsrieder in 2007, VW Group consistently has increased unit sales and operating profits despite a prolonged and severe downturn in Europe. He has done so by investing heavily outside of Europe, a move that has made China the largest global market for the VW and Audi brands. This has turned Asia Pacific into the VW Group's No. 1 region.
By comparison, struggling rival PSA Peugeot Citroen still relies on Europe for the majority of its sales.
Through May, VW Group increased global sales by 6 percent, to 3.87 million. This follows a 12 percent sales gain in 2012 compared with 2011. That rise pushed total VW Group unit sales to a record 9.34 million.
When Winterkorn announced his 10-million sales goal for 2018 in 2007, many said the target was too ambitious, especially for a company that was selling about 6 million units a year.
During the first five years of the plan, VW Group increased unit sales by nearly 50 percent compared with 2007. That leaves the company six years to boost its global volume by 7 percent to 10 million vehicles compared with 2012.
VW Group is so far ahead of schedule because its global growth has offset the slowdown in western Europe, where the debt crisis has led to austerity measures that have kept customers from big purchases such as cars. The result is that May sales in Europe fell to a level not seen since 1993.
Last year, western European sales of VW Group's nine car and light commercial vehicle brands declined by 3 percent to about 3 million units. In contrast, sales in all of the automaker's other regions rose, led by Asia Pacific, where the volume was up 23 percent to 3.17 million units.
VW has been able to defy the European downturn because it is relying less on western Europe. Last year Asia Pacific accounted for 34 percent of VW Group vehicles sales, up from 32 percent in 2011, while Europe's share dropped to 33 percent of the automaker's total sales, from 38 percent in 2011.
While Winterkorn has no doubt VW Group will reach its 10-million target before 2018, he is reluctant to tinker with his plan, which includes a range of other goals. But he admitted in an interview that he can't rule out a readjustment of the company's goals ahead of the deadline. "If we have to adjust our goals at one point or another, then we will do that," he said.
Bernd Osterloh, deputy chairman of the VW supervisory board and the company's top union official, says that the automaker should set a new target.