Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had incorrect sales figures for VW in 1971 and last year.
Volkswagen is helping its dealers hire staff as part of a push to accommodate higher sales, open more stores and expand existing ones.
With sales booming, the brand wants to grow, and that could mean adding more than 2,000 service technicians and 600 salespeople over the next few years, company officials say. Existing dealers also are adding stores, and VW says it expects to expand its network of about 600 dealerships by 10 to 15 percent, starting in 2015.
The moves come as VW seeks to more than double U.S. sales over the next six years to more than 800,000 vehicles annually.
The target demands a steep sales climb, and dealers are under pressure to deliver it. The last time the VW brand sold more than half a million cars was in 1971, when its U.S. sales hit 509,207. Last year it sold 324,402 vehicles in the United States, up 26 percent over 2010.
Still, VW retailers are optimistic. Through April, VW's sales were up 38 percent over the prior year to 131,898 vehicles, largely because of the redesigned Passat, which hit showrooms last fall.
To keep pace with this growth, many dealers are adding workers, especially in their service departments, said Will Trafton, a VW dealer in Rochester, N.Y., and chairman of the Volkswagen National Dealer Advisory Council.
"They may not be hiring next month," Trafton said. But with more VW owners on the road, demand for service is likely to increase, he added. And for some positions, dealers simply can't wait to fill them.
Service technicians, for instance, may take up to five years to fully develop and can cost $13,000 to $15,000 to train. "You can't just start looking for service technicians after you need them," he said.
VW has taken the unusual step of helping dealers recruit applicants. Last month it launched a career Web site to pool applicant resumes and give dealers a way to search for potential job candidates.
While the brand itself can't fill positions -- only dealerships can do that -- VW officials say the company wants to help connect job seekers with open positions. It's up to the dealers to determine how many workers to hire and when.
"I wouldn't say right now our need is dire," said Al Anderson, director for parts and service at McDonald Volkswagen in Littleton, Colo.
Despite selling more cars, warranty repair hours are down at the dealership because VW has made improved quality, said Michael McDonald, vice president of McDonald Auto Group, which owns the dealership.
Even so, the store plans to add four service technicians this year in anticipation of higher sales, said Anderson, speaking to Automotive News from a career fair in Wyoming, where he was recruiting for the positions. In 2011 the store sold about 600 VW brand vehicles; this year it's on track to sell about 1,000.
"We are being proactive to hire technicians to handle that," McDonald said.
Frank Trivieri, VW of America's vice president of sales, said that right now the brand is adding only a handful of new stores. The real expansion is expected to start in 2015, when it plans to add 60 to 90 dealerships by 2019.
But it's also being cautious. Trivieri added: "With the significant growth we're getting now, we really don't know how strong our growth is going to be" several years down the line.