Volkswagen’s premium brand Audi forecast on Thursday operating profit in 2012 should remain at last year’s record level of 5.35 billion euros ($7.2 billion) and expects to reach its mid-term sales target earlier than planned. Audi’s operating margin widened by nearly three full per centage points to 12.1 per cent last year, far above the 9.0 per cent achieved by rival Mercedes-Benz. “Never have our vehicle sales to retail customers increased as much in a single year,” Chief Executive Rupert Stadler told reporters, after sales volume jumped by almost a fifth to 1.3 million cars. Audi overtook Mercedes-Benz last year as the world’s second-largest premium carmaker, thanks mainly to its dominant position in China, its largest market, where Audi sells one out of every four cars. The Ingolstadt-based carmaker said it now wants to meet its 2015 target of selling 1.5 million vehicles in 2014 at the latest. Net cash rose to over 15.7 billion euros at the end of last year, meaning more than 9 out of every 10 euros in Volkswagen’s war chest came from its premium brand.