UPDATE 1-Skoda's profit nearly doubles, to expand production


(Add quotes, details on unit sales)

MLADA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Car maker Skoda Auto, a unit of Volkswagen AG , nearly doubled its pretax profit in 2004 and said on Thursday it plans to expand its production base in the near future.

The largest Czech company by turnover said pretax profit jumped to 4.82 billion crowns ($213.1 million) from 2.52 billion in 2003, while sales rose to 153.55 billion crowns from 145.20 billion.

Skoda added that net profit rose to 115.7 million euros ($152.7 million) from 108 million in 2003. It did not give the crown figure for net profit.

Skoda's performance is closely watched by a large number of its domestic suppliers and economists due to the firm's key role in Czech industry.

The company said it kept its dominant position among exporters, accounting for 7.7 percent of all goods shipped abroad from the new EU member country.

Skoda's unit sales marginally edged up to 451,675 from 449,758 in the previous year.

"A phase of consolidation, started two years ago, is bringing visible results," Vice-Chairman Winfried Vahland said in a written statement.

Skoda currently makes tree lines - the small Fabia, mid-sized Octavia and the larger Superb limousines.

Its sales slipped on the domestic market and in central Europe, but the overall sales were supported by a 2 percent rise in western Europe, its key market, and fast growing sales in eastern Europe and Asia, mainly in India.

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