Volkswagen‘s Czech Republic unit Škoda Auto on Monday said it had achieved record sales last year “despite very difficult conditions [in] car markets” and booked profits, though these were down year on year.

Skoda sold 684,226 cars in 2009, up 1.4% on the previous year’s tally.

The automaker said strong growth in China, where 122,556 cars were sold (up 106.7%) was primarily behind the increase. A record was also set in Germany, thanks to a government ‘scrappage programme’, where sales rose 44.3% to 162,328 units.

The best-selling Skoda models last year were the D-segment Octavia (273,590 cars;+2.4%) and the C-segment Fabia (264,173; +7.1%). Sales of the flagship Superb rose 73.7% to 44,548 cars. The brand’s first SUV, the Yeti launched last September, sold 11,018 units in 2009.

“The economic results of the Škoda Auto group were significantly influenced by the continuing global economic and financial crisis and the fall in total markets,” the automaker said in a statement.

Group revenues dipped 6.2% year on year to CZK187.9bn (US$10bn; EUR7.4bn). Operating profit plunged 56.5% to CZK5.9bn ($314.3m; EUR232m), however, and profit before tax was off 64.8% to CZK4.7bn.

Skoda said falling sales overall, and a higher proportion of small cars with lower margins, as well as  “measures to support sales” all hurt profits.

But, despite the falls, the group managed to achieve an increase in operating cash flow of over 100%.

“Net liquidity experienced a marked increase and in comparison with 2008 rose by 52.4% to CZK 29.6 bn,” the automaker added.

Škoda Auto remained the top Czech Republic exporter with about 7% of the country’s total exports.

“As expected, 2009 was even more unfavourable for Škoda Auto than the already problematic 2008. Unfavourable conditions on car markets, increased competitive and price pressure, in particular in eastern Europe, and a fall in the overall markets relevant for us had a marked influence on the results. The CZK’s volatility was also a burden on us again,” said said Holger Kintscher, the board member in charge of commercial affairs.

“Thanks to thorough cost discipline and the Scout economy programme to improve results, we remained markedly profitable. By achieving a high degree of liquidity, we managed to maintain our financial strength and stability.”

“Škoda now has a very modern and attractive product pallet. This entitles us to look to 2010 with optimism,” added chairman Reinhard Jung.

“The lighthouse for growth this year is China,” he added after the release of the 2009 financial results.

Jung added he expects vehicle deliveries this year to beat the 2009 total of 684,200, setting another record.

“To maintain positive sales growth going forward, the company must continue to develop new products and further its international expansion,” Jung told Dow Jones Newswires.

“The most important element is China … and growth in volumes will be enabled in markets of China, India and hopefully again in Russia,” he said.

In the first two months of this year, global unit sales rose 18% year on year. Sales in western Europe were up 25% Chinese sales jumped 129%.

In Eastern Europe, sales were down 36% in central Europe, including Skoda Auto’s home Czech market, where sales were 16% higher, Jung said.