VW officials said hail from last week's severe storms damaged about 100 test vehicles parked outside its assembly plant. No newly made customer cars were damaged; employees put those under the roof of a nearby building, they said.

Volkswagen is up to 1,730 employees in Chattanooga, and it has hired a staffing firm to find another 300 by year's end as the automaker adds a variable work force at the plant.

"We need the flexibility," said Hans-Herbert Jagla, VW's executive vice president for human resources in Chattanooga, about the contract employees.

The contract workers, whose hiring, pay and benefits will be handled and set by the staffing firm Aerotek, will work alongside regular VW employees and be eligible eventually to join the automaker, Jagla said.

He said VW still plans to hire between 2,000 and 2,500 workers in addition to the variable work force.

"We're still growing and still hiring," Jagla said.

It's not uncommon for automakers to use contract labor. BMW's assembly plant in South Carolina, for example, had as many as 1,750 contract employees late last decade. That plant employs about 7,000 workers.

Jagla said the contract workers will be used throughout the plant, and they'll have to undergo the same standards for selection and training.

He said VW has a goal of not having to lay off its work force, and using Aerotek will help in that aim.

Jim Campione, Aerotek's director of client delivery for automotive, said plans are to start its assembly workers at the plant at $12.50 an hour. That compares with starting wages of $14.50 per hour for VW production workers.

Aerotek said the company plans to be up to about 300 workers as soon as this fall.

"We're extremely excited about this opportunity," said Campione, who added that the company already works with several auto companies in North America.

Aerotek, based in Hanover, Md., has more than 200 offices in the United States, Canada and Europe.

production up

The hiring move comes as VW continues to power up production of customer cars at its plant and point toward a May 24 grand opening.

Frank Fischer, the plant's chief executive, said that while production is increasing of its all-new Passat, the speed of the assembly is quality driven.

He said the plant has produced more than 1,000 cars, most of which are test vehicles.

Fischer said plant production was unaffected by the tornadoes that peppered the area last week. No suppliers are affected either, he said.

The CEO said production also is unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Cars are expected to go on sale in the third quarter, he said.