DETROIT - Volkswagen's chief executive on Sunday cited workers at its Chattanooga assembly plant for producing "perfect cars," and he said the automaker set a new U.S. sales mark in 2012.
VW CEO Martin Winterkorn also told about 250 journalists from around the world that the German automaker is forecasting another record year in America in 2013, and the company is developing a new sport utility vehicle for the U.S. that it plans to unveil today.
The seven-seat concept, which could be produced in Chattanooga, is tentatively dubbed the Volkswagen Crossblue.
"Our business has a very strong pillar in the U.S.," Winterkorn said, projecting that VW Group of America will sell more than 600,000 vehicles this year for the first time ever.
VW reported Sunday, on the eve of the North American International Auto Show, that 2012's results bested a 42-year-old mark.
The group's sales, which include the VW brand as well as Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti, delivered 580,286 vehicles, up 30.6 percent over 2011, the company said. The group's previous sales record was 577,387 in 1970.
Chattanooga-based Passat sales were 117,023 in 2012, also a new record for VW. Jetta sales totaled 170,424, the company said.
Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen Group of America's chief executive, said in a statement that officials are "pleased to see all of our brands contributing to growth and setting this new landmark."
Frank Fischer, who heads VW's operations in Chattanooga, said 2012 was "a very successful year."
He said the Enterprise South industrial park plant, which employs about 3,300 workers, produced 150,000 vehicles in 2012.
Winterkorn said plans are to produce about 170,000 Passat midsize sedans this year.
"Detroit is the right place to speak about our plans in the U.S.," he said. "These plans are comprehensive and ambitious."
Later this month, VW plans to turn on the largest solar park in Tennessee at its Chattanooga plant. The $30 million solar park will provide up to 12.5 percent of the 2 million-square-foot plant's power.
Also this year, in nearby Roane County, VW will open a $40 million parts distribution center on which it started work in 2012.
Since 2008, when VW announced it picked Chattanooga for its first U.S. assembly plant since closing a Pennsylvania facility decades ago, it has invested $4 billion in the U.S., Winterkorn said.
"It's great to see efforts pay off," he said.
VW Group of America market share rose to 4 percent in 2012, up 0.6 percent from 2011.
Winterkorn said he's not predicting that kind of growth will occur forever for VW.
"But VW can stay in the fast lane," he said.