Volkswagen gets some good news after boardroom drama

Cost cutting and an improving European car market helped Volkswagen beat first-quarter profit forecasts, easing the pressure on management following the shock ouster of long-standing chairman Ferdinand Piech.

Four days after Piech quit in a showdown with his chief executive, Europe’s largest automaker posted a 17 per cent rise in operating profit and the first quarterly increase in earnings for seven years at Spanish division Seat.

VolkswagenFerdinand PiechREUTERS/Fabian BimmerFerdinand Piech (R), chairman of the supervisory board of German carmaker Volkswagen and CEO Martin Winterkorn speak before the shareholders meeting in Hanover on May 13, 2014.

Operating profit reached 3.33 billion euros ($US3.65 billion), Volkswagen (VW) said on Wednesday, close to the top end of forecasts in a Reuters poll of analysts and well above the average estimate of 3.12 billion euros.

VW shares were up 1.3 per cent to 243.40 euros by 0925 GMT, one of the biggest gains on Germany’s blue-chip DAX index.

With Piech raising question marks about CEO Martin Winterkorn’s ability to drive through improvements at VW, analysts were particularly relieved by signs of progress with the group’s modular production strategy which aims to use a core range of components across a wide variety of models.

“These are good numbers,” Bankhaus Metzler’s Juergen Pieper said. “The modular production strategy is progressing and tailwinds may grow over the course of the year,” he said, citing positive currency effects and cost savings at the core VW brand.

Earnings were boosted by a strengthening economic recovery in Europe — destination of 40 per cent of the group’s auto sales — and by progress in the VW brand’s drive to cut costs by 5 billion euros a year by 2017.


However, a slowdown in emerging economies, falling deliveries in the United States and a collapse in Russian demand pose challenges for VW and still leave questions over Winterkorn’s strategy.

The underperformance of the VW brand in the United States and Latin America was one factor leading Piech to provoke the two-week confrontation with VW’s CEO that ended up forcing the chairman to resign.

The group said cost cuts boosted earnings by “a low triple-digit million-euro” amount at the VW brand between January and March, lifting the brand’s operating margin to 2 per cent from 1.8 per cent — still far off its 6 per cent long-term goal.

“We have always emphasised that 2015 will be a challenging year for the automotive industry as a whole, and also for us,” Winterkorn said. “Our key figures show that the VW group remains on course, despite the headwinds.”

The German group still expects higher unit sales, revenue and an operating margin between 5.5 and 6.5 per cent this year, after it reached 6.3 per cent last year.

“The environment is getting better, there’s a good chance they will raise their margin target,” Bankhaus Metzler Pieper said.

($US1 = 0.9117 euros)

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This article originally appeared at Reuters. Copyright 2015. Follow Reuters on Twitter.

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