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Mechatronics student Cameron Newman, right, and Teresa White watch as another student operates a training robot at the Volkswagen manufacturing plant on Thursday, June 16, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. This fall, 27 Hamilton County high school juniors will enroll in Volkswagen's new Mechatronics Akademie where they will spend 2 years learning how to run and maintain industrial robots.

Despite the diesel emissions scandal, Volkswagen Group sold over 5 million cars and light trucks worldwide and more than any other automaker in the first half of 2016, figures showed Monday.

The carmaker sold 5.04 million vehicles through June, up 0.8 percent from a year ago, according to the Center for Automotive Management. The figure includes the automaker's flagship Volkswagen brand, as well as Audi, Porsche, and its other nameplates.

Toyota came in second with 4.99 million vehicles sold, up 1 percent. General Motors was third with 4.77 million vehicles, a drop of 1.8 percent, German news outlet Deutsche Welle reported.

VW's global sales were attributable largely to strength in Western Europe and China.

In the United States, the VW brand sustained a 14.5 percent drop in the first half of 2016, though Audi and Porsche sales have remained higher. Audi sales, for example, were up 3.5 percent the first six months of the year in the U.S.

Jesse Toprak, chief executive of the auto research website carhub.com, said VW is trying to regain customer trust in the U.S., show that it's taking responsibility for the diesel scandal and that it still has quality product.

"It will take some time," he said. But, he noted Toyota had its sudden acceleration issue just a couple of years ago and consumers are back to buying that brand.

Karl Brauer, senior director for insights for Kelley Blue Book, said VW needs more sport utility vehicles to help spur U.S. sales. The company is spending $900 million, including $600 million in Tennessee, to expand its Chattanooga plant to make a new midsize SUV that's expected to hit dealerships early next year.

"They know that's the type of vehicle that can turn things around," he said.

Alan Brown, who heads VW's U.S. dealer council, said he sees even more product coming out of the Chattanooga assembly plant.

Brown said VW can't build a facility as large at the Chattanooga factory that just produces one or two products. VW officials have talked about assembling electric vehicles in North America as well as more SUVs.

"That is built for the future," Brown said about the Tennessee factory.

In 2015, Toyota retained its post as the world's No. 1 automaker, selling 10.15 million vehicles worldwide. Toyota's 2015 group sales, which include subsidiaries Daihatsu and Hino Motors Ltd., fell 0.8 percent from 2014, the carmaker said.

VW sold 9.9 million vehicles last year, but it was late in 2015 when the cheating scandal came to light. GM sold 9.8 million vehicles, citing U.S. and China sales growth.

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

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