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VW's Audi brand hits 1 mln mark in sales in 2008

Volkswagen's premium brand Audi hit the 1 million mark in vehicle sales last year as promised, brushing off a slump in the global car market to notch its 13th straight year of rising volumes. Boosted by last year's re-launch of its popular A4 mid-size estate, the company said on Thursday sales rose 4.1% to 1,003,400 vehicles.

The Ingolstadt-based carmaker enjoyed a strong finish to the year as the launch of its Q5 mid-size sport utility vehicle gave a 17.4% lift to sales in December, when Audi sold a total of 82,800 units.

Last month its sales growth in western Europe amounted to nearly 23%, outpacing Asia-Pacific's 16% growth.

“We will build on this strength in a difficult 2009 as well,” Audi Chief Executive Rupert Stadler said in a statement, although no outlook of any kind was disclosed.

The company said it would provide one during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, due to kick off on Sunday with the first media day.

Unlike its closest competitors, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Audi has so far managed to steer clear of hundreds of millions in writedowns due to declines in the expected resale value of its cars coming off lease.

This has helped to shield profits at a crucial time when all three are battling a severe slump in global car markets.

While both BMW and Mercedes parent Daimler have warned twice they would not meet their 2008 earnings targets, Audi has reaffirmed its goal of growing profits in line with revenue and car sales.

Through the first nine months, operating profit rose 13.6%, easily outpacing a rise of 2.1% in turnover.

Volkswagen ordinary shares rose 1% to 298.05 euros, while the more liquid preferred stock slipped 2.7% to €39.27.

Late on Monday, Audi rival Porsche SE said it had raised its stake in parent VW's voting shares to 50.8%. (Reuters)