BERLIN, (Reuters) - Volkswagen stuck to its guidance for operating profit even after delivering record earnings last year, saying falling demand in key markets may weigh on its business.
VW, in contrast to rivals, said its operating margin may fall this year, giving a target range of 5.5 to 6.5 percent after reaching 6.3 percent last year.
"Given the subdued growth prospects in regions outside China, there is no guarantee that 2015 will be a successful year, either for the industry or for VW," finance chief Hans Dieter Poetsch said on Friday.
Shares in Europe's largest carmaker fell almost 6 percent before recovering to finish 0.3 percent higher at 225.5 euros. The European autos index was up 0.9 percent.
"I find the outlook very conservative. It's almost identical to last year's although currency markets are more positive than a year ago and demand for cars is also a touch better," said Metzler Bank automotive analyst Juergen Pieper.
Volkswagen raised its forecast for revenue, saying it could exceed last year's record 202 billion euros by as much as 4 percent, but stuck to its 2015 group operating margin target.
In contrast, Toyota raised its profit guidance as it anticipates record earnings while Peugeot - which only survived the European slump after a multi-billion share issue - raised a key cash-flow goal after narrowing its net loss in 2014.
VW has said it is bracing for a tough year after sales at its namesake brand, accounting for about 60 percent of group deliveries, fell for a fourth month in January with demand shrinking in key European and Chinese markets.
VW's 2014 operating profit rose more than expected, by 8.8 percent to a record 12.7 billion euros ($14.2 billion) on double-digit gains in sales of luxury Audi and Porsche models.
To help profits, VW is aiming to shrink the number of components used in models including the top-selling Golf and is ceasing some unprofitable vehicles such as the Eos convertible.
But analysts have said VW's profitability gains are not keeping pace with its rapid expansion, which in 2014 helped the company meet a 10 million auto-sales goal four years early.
Although its coffers were boosted by record sales and profit, VW proposed to raise the dividend to 4.86 euros per preferred share from 4.06 euros, less than expected by analysts.
VW, which aims to cut costs at its core passenger-car brand by 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion) per year from 2017, initiated changes in its top management to push for greater profitability.
Former BMW executive Herbert Diess will join Wolfsburg-based VW on July 1, three months earlier than planned, to head up operations at the troubled namesake brand.
Separately, the 20-member panel also appointed Porsche CEO Matthias Mueller to the management board as of March 1, giving him equal status to Audi CEO Rupert Stadler who has been on the management board since 2010. Audi is VW's key profit driver.
Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn has yet to decide whether he will want to serve beyond 2016 when his contract runs out.
Mueller may take special responsibility for sports cars on the nine-member panel, newly-hired ex-Daimler executive Andreas Renschler will oversee trucks and BMW's Herbert Diess will look after volume-brand operations when he takes the helm of VW's core mass-market brand in October, a company source said. ($1 = 0.8914 euros)