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Audi forecasts another record year after 2006 earnings surge

Audi AG, Volkswagen AG\'s luxury car division, forecast record results in 2007 after profit surged last year on sales of new models such as the Q7 sport-utility vehicle.

Net income rose 63% to €1.34 billion ($1.77 billion) from €824 million a year earlier, the Ingolstadt, Germany-based carmaker said in a statement today. Sales jumped 17% to €31.1 billion. „2007 will be a new record-breaking year,” CEO Rupert Stadler, who took over from Martin Winterkorn last month, said in the text of a speech to be delivered this morning. Stadler today raised the luxury carmaker\'s long-term sales goal to 1.5 million vehicles annually by 2015 from 1.4 million. Audi, which competes with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and DaimlerChrysler AG\'s Mercedes-Benz, plans to add 18 vehicles through 2015, bringing the total lineup to 40 models. Audi\'s earnings gain last year was helped by a shift in the tax burden within the Volkswagen group, Juergen De Graeve, corporate communications chief, said. Audi\'s 2006 unit sales rose to a record for the 13th straight year, gaining 9.2% to 905,000 vehicles. The increase was led by a 39% surge in China to 82,000 cars and SUVs.

Audi introduced 12 new models last year, among them the new Q7. The luxury carmaker sold 52,765 Q7s worldwide last year, with US customers buying more than 10,000. The Q7\'s popularity helped Audi achieve record US sales of 90,116 vehicles in 2006 and post a „modest profit” in the world\'s largest automobile market after four years of losses, the carmaker said in January. Audi\'s main model launches this year are the new TT Roadster, A5 Coupe and R8 sports car. Audi accounted for about half of the Volkswagen group\'s 2006 profit, which more than doubled to €2.75 billion because of new car models, a tax gain and the disposal of a vehicle-rental division. The carmaker is scheduled to release detailed figures for last year on March 9. Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech replaced CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder with Winterkorn at the beginning of this year, hoping he\'ll replicate Audi\'s success at the group. (Bloomberg)