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Staff Photo by Angela Lewis A Volkswagen Passat is on display during a June announcement of 600 new jobs through a partnership between Volkswagen and Gestamp. The project will include expanding Gestamp's existing Chattanooga facility, and constructing a new sampling facility in Enterprise South.

Volkswagen has lapped Toyota Motor Corp. in global sales in the first half of the year, aided in North America by buyers of its luxury Audi and Porsche brands.

Japanese automaker Toyota, which topped the world in 2014, on Tuesday posted sales of 5.02 million vehicles in the first six months of this year. That's down 1.5 percent from the same period a year ago as Toyota has struggled in its home market of Japan.

Volkswagen, which includes sales of its namesake VW brand as well as Audi, Porsche, Bentley and other models, sold 5.04 million vehicles globally in the same period.

VW 1st half sales

Region, sales and percent change over last year:

* North America: 451,200, up 6 percent

* Europe: 2.11 million, up 3.7 percent

* China: 1.74 million, down 3.9 percent

* South America: 297,300, down 22.5 percent

* Total: 5.04 million, down 0.5 percent

Source: Volkswagen

The German automaker is aiming to finish 2015 as the No. 1 car company by sales for the first time, and it's investing $900 million in its Chattanooga assembly plant to help grow its U.S. numbers.

"They had to get focused back to the U.S.," said Karl Brauer, senior editor for Kelley Blue Book. He said that VW had prioritized production in Europe and China over the last couple of years.

VW sales were higher in Europe and North America in the January to June period, but fell in China, usually a strong market for the company. Total first-half sales were 0.5 percent down from the same period in 2014.

In North America, VW reported that six-month sales rose 6 percent, despite a drop in its VW brand in the U.S. over a year ago by 2.6 percent. Strong sales of its luxury Audi and Porsche brands have helped drive the higher number.

This year, VW is refreshing its Chattanooga-made Passat sedan and that's expected to improve its U.S. sales.

Christian Koch, who heads VW's operations in Chattanooga, said earlier that the new Passat "is a beautiful car."

"You'll see it in the fall," he said, though declining to note how much it will differ from the existing Passat.

Brauer added that VW is refocusing on the SUV market in the U.S. The Chattanooga plant expansion will lead to production of a midsize SUV, though assembly won't start until late next year.

"They know they've got to crank this up," Brauer said. "That market is hot in the U.S."

VW plans to hire 2,000 more workers in Chattanooga to join the 2,400 who already work at the factory.

Detroit-based General Motors Corp., the top-selling automaker for more than seven decades until being surpassed by Toyota in 2008, is expected to report its figures on Thursday.

GM retook the sales crown in 2011, when Toyota's production was hurt by the quake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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