Volkswagen group has got off to a flying start this year, selling 652,500 cars in January, up 1.3% over the same month a year ago but sales chief Christian Klingler is preparing for a challenging 11 months ahead.

“We have made an encouraging start, but as expected, the prevailing economic uncertainty is impacting the automotive industry,” he said. “We will continue to keep a very close eye on the market situation, particularly in Europe.”

Group sales rose nearly 28% in North America to over 53,500, its best January figure since 1974. The South America region grew 4.6% to 78,100 while Asia Pacific remained largely stable at 233,500.

The group’s largest single market, China, was not quite able to match last year’s high level, falling 4.5% to 208,200 although the passenger car market there contracted by around 13%. In India sales grew 28% to 9,400.

Major uncertainty over the euro characterised the market in Europe during January although VW said group sales were stable at 259,900, about 2,000 vehicles down on 2011. Western Europe, though, fell nearly 8% to 144,400.

Audi delivered 96,100 vehicles worldwide in January, up 0.8% with strong growth in China, where 27,200 deliveries were up 22.6%. Czech affiliate Škoda delivered 75,400 units, up 10.2% while Seat delivered 21,700, down 15.4%.