At a recent press conference, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn said that the German automaker has plans to become the world's biggest automaker, usurping giants Toyota and GM.
"I see Volkswagen in the pole position... after the crisis, he said at the conference. "We are staying in the fast lane and the fuel tank is well topped up."
Although it takes some nerve to make such claims during an economic recession that is battering your industry, Winterkorn has good reason to boast: Volkswagen posted a huge profit last year - despite the recession - and analysts expect them to turn a profit (albeit a smaller one) for 2009 as well.
However, Volkswagen still has quite a long way to go. Toyota, which overtook GM last year (or the year before, depending on who you ask) as the world's biggest automaker, sold almost 9 million vehicles in 2008, and GM sold 8.3 million. Volkswagen sold about 6.3 million vehicles, making it the world's third largest automaker by a sizeable margin. It hopes to close the gap by 2018.
And although GM and Toyota both sell more cars than Volkswagen, GM is near bankruptcy and Toyota is bracing for massive losses from the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Volkswagen, on the other hand, posted a record net profit of £4.7 billion ($6 billion). This year, Winterkorn expect profits to drop by about 10 percent.
Volkswagen will focus on further penetrating the U.S. market in order to increase its sales. Last summer, it announced that it would build a $1 billion plant in Tennessee, where an all-new midsized sedan to compete with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry will be produced. Its goal is to sell 800,000 Volkswagens in the U.S. each year. Last year, Volkswagen sold a little over 300,000 vehicles in the U.S. between its signature nameplate and Audi luxury brand.
Winterkorn also forecast some heavy global consolidation in the auto industry. He said that he expects one manufacturer to survive in Japan, one in China, one from the U.S. and "two or three" in Europe.