FRANKFURT -- Volkswagen Group announced an increase in vehicle sales of 1.3 percent to 652,500 units in January, boosted by strong gains in North America.
This helped counteract lower sales in VW's biggest single market China, where demand was subdued by China's New Year festivities, and Europe, where car markets continue to be plagued by ongoing economic problems.
"We have made an encouraging start, but 2012 will be a challenging year. As expected, the prevailing economic uncertainty is impacting the automotive industry. We will continue to keep a very close eye on the market situation, particularly in Europe," group head of sales Christian Klingler said in a statement on Friday.
Sales in North America jumped by 27.7 percent in January to 53,500 units, helped by the strongest U.S. sales since January 1974, which rose 39.5 percent to 36,700 units.
Growth in the United Sates was boosted by the success of the new VW Passat midsize model, which is currently built at the automaker's Chattanooga plant.
China sales fell 4.5 percent to 208,200 in the first month, as growth was seriously affected by an early national holiday.
In the overall European market, VW said sales fell 1 percent to 259,900 in January, while in western Europe, excluding Germany, consumer reluctance to make big-sticker purchases in the midst of economic troubles, forced group sales down 7.8 percent to 144,400 units.
Sales were stronger in central and eastern Europe, where they grew 33.6 percent to 41,400.
In Germany, VW's biggest single European market, sales dropped 1 percent to 74,100 last month as Europe's biggest economy continues to cool down.
VW Group's core VW brand continued to grow sales in January, increasing by a modest 0.1 percent to 419,200 cars, while the automaker's luxury brand Audi saw sales grow 0.8 percent to 96,100 in January.
Skoda, the group's Czech unit, continued to prove popular in emerging markets and sales of the brand grew 10.2 percent to 75,400 last month, while Seat sales slid 15.4 percent to 21,700 in the same period.
Volkswagen sold 8.16 million vehicles worldwide at a group level last year, a 14 percent increase on 2010, and targets sales of about 10 million units no later than 2018.
The automaker aims to overtake General Motors, which sold 9.05 million units last year, as the world's biggest automaker.
Reuters contributed to this report