Audi UK is on track to sell a record 101,000 cars this year, marginally above the 100,000 units it sold last year marking 17 years of consecutive growth for the brand.

But the company is bracing itself for a tough 2009, although with 10 new or revised products scheduled for launch it still expects to end 2009 marginally above ’08 levels.

The company says the premium segment in which it operates should be the least affected by the recession. Even so it is building its 2009 business plan around a total UK market of 1.8 million vehicles, some 600,000 down on the industry’s original estimate for 2008 and at least 300,000 down on where the market is forecast to end the year. Audi says it expects the UK market to recover in the second quarter of 2010.

“Strong brands do better in a downturn but we are planning for a difficult year in 2009,” says Audi director Jeremy Hicks. “We won’t see much growth and need to be fleet of foot so we can adjust volumes. We have a number of plans in place and we won’t oversupply the market. We’ve fought hard to get to our current position and we won’t lose it.”

Hicks was speaking at the UK launch of the Q5 compact SUV which he describes as filling an important gap in the company’s line-up. “It’s a potential winner as people begin to downsize,” he says. Q5 sales are forecast to be 6,500-7,000 in 2009.

Q5 becomes the 29th model in the company’s range and Audi says it will have a 40-strong line-up by 2015. It says that next year’s Geneva motor show will see three debuts, including a medium-sized car which expands the range.

The small A1 is scheduled to appear in the first half of 2010 and an A2 replacement is in the pipeline “but some way off.” Globally, Audi’s sales were 3.3 per cent up in the first 10 months of the year over the same period in 2007. The company has sold 844,700 vehicles worldwide and expects to meet its original 2008 target of more than one million sales.

The company says it is investing €2 billion a year in new products and updating existing products and that will not change whatever happens to the global economy.

The Q5, which competes with BMW X3, Land Rover Freelander and Volvo XC60, goes on sale with a choice of 2.0 litre petrol and diesel engines and a 3.0 litre diesel. Prices start from GBP29,140.