Volkswagen AG, Europe's largest automaker, said its first-quarter profit almost doubled as sales in China and at the Audi luxury brand jumped to a record, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

Net income increased to ¤473m from ¤243m a year earlier, Wolfsburg, Germany-based VW said in a statement on Wednesday.

That compares with the ¤459m average estimate of four analysts compiled by Bloomberg. Sales climbed 19 per cent to ¤28.6bn.

Volkswagen, which aimed to overtake Toyota Motor Corporation in deliveries and profitability by 2018, forecasts earnings and sales growth this year, a sign that European carmakers were recovering from the financial crisis. Daimler AG earlier this week raised forecasts for its car and truck units. PSA Peugeot Citroen, on Wednesday, reported a 28 per cent jump in first-quarter revenue, beating estimates.

'Growth in the United States and China should be able to help Volkswagen increase sales this year,' said Mr. Christian Aust, a Munich-based analyst with UniCredit, before the earnings release. 'In terms of profit, it will be difficult for it to compensate for a weak second-half in Europe.'

European government incentives for consumers to trade in older vehicles for more fuel-efficient ones helped Volkswagen boost European deliveries last year, leading to a record 6.29 million cars and sport-utility vehicles sold.

Volkswagen jumped as much as ¤1.65, or 2.2 per cent, to ¤75.25 and traded at ¤74.97 in Frankfurt, valuing the carmaker at ¤34.4bn.

As so-called 'cash-for-clunker' programmes are phased out, in Germany alone the market would probably shrunk 25 per cent to three million light vehicles this year, according to forecaster IHS Global Insight. Growth in Asia and North America may lead to a five per cent rise in global auto sales to 66.7 million cars and light trucks.

During the first quarter, VW group sales including Audi and Czech unit Skoda, rose 25 per cent to 1.73 million units, Volkswagen said April 16.

Audi sold 264,100 vehicles, a 26 per cent gain, posting its best first-quarter sales ever. The main VW brand rose 27 per cent to 1.11 million.

Sales in China climbed 61 per cent to a record 457,300 vehicles, while United States deliveries advanced 37 per cent to 80,000 cars and SUVs.

Volkswagen's brands aim to add 60 models, including upgrades, in 2010 alone. The carmaker rolled out nine vehicles at the Geneva auto show last month, including the Amarok pickup truck and Sharan minivan.

Volkswagen is taking over Porsche SE's automotive operations. VW last week raised about ¤4.1bn by selling 64.9 million preferred shares at ¤65 each to help fund the takeover.

Group targets for 2018 include a pretax profit that exceeds eight per cent of sales, compared with 1.4 per cent in the first three quarters of 2009, as well as a medium-term margin of earnings before interest and taxes of at least five per cent of revenue, VW said on March 11.

Peugeot, Europe's second-biggest automaker, today said first-quarter revenue jumped 28 per cent to ¤13.99bn on new models and forecast 'significant' operating income for the first half. The figure was ahead of analyst expectations of ¤13bn, according to Bloomberg survey of five analysts.

Daimler, the Stuttgart, Germany-based maker of Mercedes- Benz cars, yesterday raised profit forecasts for its car and truck units after reporting preliminary first-quarter earnings before interest and taxes of ¤1.2bn, beating analyst expectations.