The marketing chief of Volkswagen said on Tuesday that the company’s unit sales in January and February had risen from a year earlier, Reuters reported.

“Unit sales improved in both months compared to a year ago,” Volkswagen board member Robert Buechelhofer said on the sidelines of the Geneva car show, according to Reuters.

The news agency said the company’s unit sales dipped slightly last year while its pre-tax profit slipped 10% to just under four billion euros. Unlike French rivals Renault and PSA Peugeot, it has left investors clamouring for details on the outlook for its business this year.

Reuters said that, with sales of its ageing Golf hatchback, the backbone of the company’s success over the past three decades, and of its tired-looking Passat family saloon coming under increasing pressure ahead of forthcoming replacements, many analysts say Volkswagen will do well to keep profits flat this year.

A company source told Reuters last month that the company would launch a new version of its Passat in late autumn 2004, later than many analysts had expected, enabling it to avoid the cost of having to phase out two key models at the same time.

Although the company as a whole has declined to say how it expects profit or revenue to shape up in 2003, three of its business units have predicted flat earnings this year, Reuters said.