Volkswagen's chief executive said Thursday that current auto market conditions "do not allow for optimism." Speaking at the carmaker's annual general meeting, Bernd Pischetsrieder reiterated his expectation that first-quarter operating profits would be "miserable" even compared with last year when they dropped by 47 percent. "We must bear in mind the possibility that underlying conditions might not improve significantly in the foreseeable future," he said. The company blames an overall downturn in the international car market for falling profits. Combined with a stagnating domestic economy and a high euro to dollar exchange rate oversees, sales are expected to decline even further in 2004. In a move designed to lessen its dependence on auto industry swings, the company announced on Thursday it would buy Europe's largest fleet management firm, Netherlands-based LeasePlan Corp. for €2 billion. VW said the move was aimed at bulking up its financial services arm while decreasing its exposure to the market's cyclical swings.