Especially strong performance in China helped Volkswagen become the most profitable automaker last year.

Buoyed by strong demand in Asian markets, Volkswagen officially topped Ford to become the world's most profitable automaker last year thanks to a 6.82 billion euro ($9.42 billion) net income.

The German automaker's numbers bested analysts' expectations and further strengthened its ability to take over Porsche.

"Fiscal year 2010 was the best year in the history of the group. Volkswagen already provided impressive proof of its robustness during the crisis and our group is now following that up by leading the field during the economic recovery," VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said.

Volkswagen's massive net income, reported in euros, bested Ford's 6.56 billion, Toyota's 6 billion and General Motors' 4.7 billion last year. VW still trailed rival Toyota in terms of global sales, but the record income and continued growth in emerging markets help put it in a position analysts didn't anticipate. VW has set a goal of becoming the world's largest automaker by 2018, a position still held by Toyota.

An aggregate of analyst figures pinned VW at 4.96 billion euros, a number the automaker exceeded by nearly 2 billion.

Chinese position

VW's sales in China were up 37 percent last year to 1.92 million and the automaker has closed its gap behind Toyota in other emerging markets like Brazil, India and Russia.

VW has nine vehicle plants in China and it says it plans to add two more to help double Chinese production to 3 million cars annually.

While GM is the best-poised Detroit automaker in the increasingly lucrative Chinese market, VW had a hefty head start. The German brand entered the Chinese market 30 years ago, making the people's car the first foreign automaker to enter the People's Republic.