(Bloomberg) -- Audi, the world's second-largest maker of luxury cars, said high-performance cars like the RS5, as well as the new version of the A3 compact, will help propel sales this year amid intensifying economic headwinds.
"We aim to increase sales of high-performance cars by one third" in 2013, CEO Rupert Stadler said Thursday in the text of a speech delivered at the brand's annual shareholders meeting in Neckarsulm, Germany.
Audi sold about 11,000 of its RS and R8 sports cars last year.
"We want to, and we will, grow further in 2013," Stadler added.
Profit from Audi is critical to financing parent Volkswagen AG's strategy to overtake General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp. as the world's biggest automaker by 2018.
Audi accounted for 56 percent of the VW's first-quarter operating profit and VW CEO Martin Winterkorn pledged last month to increase the group's presence in the premium-car segment, where profit margins are higher than for mass-market models.
Volkswagen, Europe's largest automaker, also owns sports-car maker Porsche, British luxury-car producer Bentley and the Lamborghini and Bugatti supercar brands.
The division is forecasting sales to rise in 2013 after it delivered 1.46 million cars last year.
In the United States, Audi's sales have climbed 16 percent to 47,343 through April, outpacing the overall market's 7-percent gain.
Audi reiterated it expects a "slight" increase in revenue this year and an operating margin at the upper end of its long-term target range.
Operating profit last year climbed 0.6 percent to 5.38 billion euros ($6.9 billion) as revenue rose 11 percent to 48.8 billion euros.
The margin was 11 percent of revenue, above its target of 8 percent to 10 percent. Audi plans to dethrone BMW AG as the world's best-selling premium-car maker by the end of the decade.
It ranks second after overtaking Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz brand in 2011.
Mercedes narrowed the sales gap to both BMW and Audi last month as new versions of its A- and B-Class compacts attracted buyers.
Analysts, including Juergen Pieper at Bankhaus Metzler in Frankfurt, expect the growth to continue in the second half of the year.
Global deliveries in April by Mercedes jumped 12 percent from a year earlier to 116,566 cars and SUVs. Sales at BMW's namesake brand rose 7.5 percent to 130,598 cars and SUVs, while Audi's deliveries increased 6.6 percent to 133,500, according to data from the manufacturers.
BMW's four-month deliveries rose at a faster rate than at its two main competitors, with a 7.1 percent jump to 512,000 cars and SUVs versus Audi's 6.7 percent gain to 503,000 deliveries and 5.6 percent growth to 441,464 at Mercedes.
The German luxury-car makers, all of which are targeting sales increases this year, have fared better than Europe's mass-market auto manufacturers as rising demand in China and the United States offsets a sixth straight year of industrywide declines in their home region.
BMW, Mercedes and Audi are boosting production capacity outside Europe to tap rising demand and reduce exposure to currency swings. Audi held the groundbreaking for a new plant in Mexico earlier this month and is considering to start producing cars in Brazil.
It's adding to an existing plant in Hungary and will open a factory in Foshan, China, later this year.
The expansion is part of Audi's efforts to break out of its Germany-dominated production network. Until four years ago, Audi produced 75 percent of its vehicles in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm.
By 2017, the share of the German plants is forecast to fall to 45 percent as annual production rises to 1.9 million vehicles from 1.5 million units last year, according to data from IHS Automotive. Audi expects produce more cars next year outside Germany than within the country for the first time.