HAMBURG (Reuters) -- Volkswagen is bracing for a "very demanding year" as the European debt crisis weighs on auto markets and global economic growth slows, CEO Martin Winterkorn said.
VW remains "cautiously optimistic" for 2012 despite the economic uncertainties, Winterkorn told the automaker's annual meeting on Thursday, adding that the company still aims to increase auto sales and revenue beyond 2011 results.
Growing auto markets in Asia, the United States, Latin America and Russia helped VW increase group sales by 15 percent last year to a record 8.36 million cars.
VW sold a record 2.2 million units in the first quarter globally.
Winterkorn restated the company's goal to match last year's record operating profit of 11.3 billion euros ($14.8 billion).
The pursuit of higher earnings this year may be thwarted by costs for a technology overhaul designed to facilitate the construction of as many as 3.5 million small and mid-sized cars.
VW aims to roll out more than 40 new models or updated vehicles.
VW still faces "some hurdles" to combine with Porsche SE's automotive operations, Winterkorn said.
The carmaker dropped plans for a full merger with Porsche last September after lawsuits against the sports-car manufacturer in the United States and Germany complicated Porsche's valuation.
The company would incur a tax burden of about 1 billion euros if it were to use a number of options to buy the remaining 50.1 percent of Porsche's core business before 2014.
"The integrated Volkswagen and Porsche group will happen," Winterkorn said.