Monday, September 1, 2014 · 2:34 p.m.
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Volkswagen had its best year in 2012 since 1973. (Photo: Staff)

Partly thanks to the locally made Passat, 2012 was Volkswagen's best calendar year since 1973, leaders said Thursday morning. 

"It was clearly a strong year for VW growth in the U.S.," Jonathan Browning, president and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America Inc., said. "I don't expect this level of growth to continue into 2013. We are taking a pretty cautious view of the continued uncertainty with the economic scene. But, as a brand, we do expect to outpace the industry." 

In 2012, Volkswagen sold more than twice the volume it did in 2009. And, in the month of December, the company sold 44,005 cars. That's a 35.4 percent increase, which makes it the best December for the brand since 1970. 

Leaders said the Passat continued to have strong market appeal. 

They sold 117,023 Passats in 2012. That's a 413.7 percent increase over 2011.

In December, leaders sold 14,462 Passats. 

In May 2011, Volkswagen opened its Chattanooga plant. At that time, leaders said the opening represented a major milestone for the company and a big step toward its 2018 goals. 

In March of this year, local VW leaders said they added more than 1,000 jobs in 2012, bringing the total number of employees to more than 3,000. That's more than VW leaders initially promised for Chattanooga. 

The increase in employees was needed to keep up with demand and production. 

In July of this year, leaders announced soaring sales and said they had the best first half of a year since July 1973.

And that trend of strong growth continued through the end of the year. 

But moving forward, leaders are more guarded. The recent fiscal cliff debate has saddled everyone with uncertainty, and VW officials are no different.

"It would have been nice if all the open questions had been resolved," Browning said. "Our perspective is one of gradual recovery, but certainly these ongoing discussions don't help that sense of confidence."

The company's inventory is "pretty balanced," although leaders said they are going to be conservative in production planning so that inventory doesn't build up. 

Although the Passat helped boost Volkswagen sales this year, it won't likely provide as big of an increase next year, Browning said. 

"You go through cycles of bringing a new product into the marketplace," he said. "With the arrival of the Passat into the market and the Beetle, that gave us a year-on-year step-up. Already, the Passat and Beetle have been in the market over a year, so we don't get the level of step-up [next year]." 

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