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Lamborghini 2008 profit up 27 pct on cost-cutting

* Pretax profit up 27.4 pct to 60 mln eur on near-flat sales

* Company aims for overall profit in 2009

* CEO says expects sales to decline less than overall sector

* No plans for permanent job cuts

By Gilles Castonguay

MILAN, April 15 (Reuters) - Lamborghini’s drive to cut costs helped it post a 27.4 percent rise in pretax profit on virtually flat sales in 2008, and the luxury sports car maker aimed to post another profit this year despite the global crisis.

“The overall target for the 2009 financial year is to attain an overall profit,” the Italian division of Volkswagen AG’s Audi brand said in a statement on Wednesday without giving a specific forecast.

Chief Executive Stephan Winkelmann told Reuters in a phone interview that he expected sales to decline this year but not as much as those for the luxury car market in general, as wealthy car lovers postponed making big purchases.

“I’m sure the market will remain like this,” Winkelmann said.

The head of Aston Martin, Ulrich Bez, was quoted by German daily Die Welt last month as saying he expected his company to sell fewer cars this year after having enjoyed the second-best year in its history in 2008.

Lamborghini’s Winkelmann said the market could be one of the first to recover once the global economy started to improve.

However, Lamborghini was prepared to wait it out if it took time for the market to pick up again, he said.

“We are ready for 2009 and 2010 to have no growth,” Winkelmann said.

The global crisis has been so severe that it has changed the spending habits of the rich, a class usually immune to the vagaries of the economy.

They are seen curbing their appetite for clothes, watches, jewellery and every other luxury good.

CUTTING COSTS

The crisis has been especially hard on the car industry, forcing manufacturers like Lamborghini to cut costs like halting production at its plant for extended periods.

Lamborghini, based in Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, has been sending a third of its staff home during temporary shutdowns of its plant there, but Winkelmann said the company had no plans to make permanent job cuts.

The company also would not touch its budget for developing a new car every year, he said.

The latest model, the Murcielago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce, was shown at the Geneva auto show in March. A third of the limited run of 350 units has already been sold.

Although 2008 was a record year for unit sales, Lamborghini still missed its target. Unit sales went up only 1 percent to 2,430 units, far below the 5 percent target.

Revenue rose 2.5 percent to 479 million euros, with strong growth in Asia and the Middle East helping mitigate the sharp drop in the United States, Lamborghini’s single biggest market.

Pretax profit was 60 million euros, helping Lamborghini meet at least one target for the year -- a return on sales of 12.5 percent against 10.1 percent the prior year. (Reporting by Gilles Castonguay; editing by Karen Foster)

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