CHATTANOOGA -- Volkswagen Group of America plans to add 800 jobs at its plant here to boost production of the Passat mid-sized sedan.
The move will increase the factory's work force to 3,500 by year end and push VW closer to its new goal of building more than 170,000 Passats annually in Chattanooga by 2013.
VW previously planned to build 150,000 Passats a year by 2013.
The new jobs, which will add a third team to the factory's two-shift rotation, will enable the plant to operate 10 hours a day, six days a week per shift and help boost output from a current rate of 500 to 550 cars daily, VW officials said.
The bulk of those cars will be built for sale in the United States, but VW also plans to export some models to Mexico and South Korea.
"We're adding a third team at this plant for a simple reason: Customers want to buy Passats," said Jonathan Browning, CEO of VW Group of America.
Sales of VW brand vehicles have increased 36 percent or more each month beginning with September, when the new Passat hit U.S. showrooms just months after production was launched.
VW division's U.S. sales have soared 45 percent through the first two months of this year to 57,786 units -- one-fourth of them Passats.
"Quite plainly, we need more Passats to meet the market demand," Browning said.
By 2018, the German carmaker wants to boost U.S. sales of its VW brand to 800,000 vehicles annually as part of its bid to become the leading automaker worldwide. VW also hopes to sell 200,000 of its Audi premium cars in the United States that year. Last year, VW brand sales rose 26 percent to 324,402 vehicles.
VW spent $1 billion to build the Chattanooga plant. It opened in May 2011, marking VW's return to assembling cars in the United States after more than two decades.