Auto giant General Motors has beaten its profit targets for 2003 despite ongoing problems in some of its biggest markets.

The group recorded earnings of $3.2 billion (€2.5bn; £1.7bn) before exceptional items last year, as revenues rose 4.6% to $185.5bn. Much of this growth reflects a strong performance by GM's finance arm; its auto business, however, has continued to struggle.

In the US, where GM has been fighting a long-running discount battle, profits slumped from $3.1bn to $1.2bn. Moreover, the auto giant posted losses in South America ($331m) and Europe ($286m). One bright spot, however, was Asia, where earnings tripled to $577m on strong Chinese sales.

Chief financial officer John Devine admitted that a recovery in the auto division is vital if GM is to hit its mid-decade goal of $5.7bn profits.

To this end, the auto firm is planning to revamp its passenger cars as it seeks to regain market share from Japanese manufacturers.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff