The head of General Motors’ Opel unit has warned that demand for new vehicles in Europe will weaken significantly in 2012.

Karl-Friedrich Stracke told Automobilwoche: “We expect that the automobile market in Europe will experience a painful cooling and we expect a significant shrinking.”

Meanwhile, Volkswagen expects global automobile production to rise 45% between 2010 and 2018 to about 105m cars each year, according to Hans Demant, a former Opel executive who oversees international cooperation projects at VW.

He told an industry conference: “Brazil, Russia, India and China will post the highest growth rates. In western Europe, car sales will grow about 15% to 16.5m from 14.4m.”

VW which has targeted sales of 8m cars in 2011, aims to overtake Toyota by 2018.