SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ The decision by Volkswagen of America Inc. to close its metal-stamping plant here shocked local officials already hit by shutdowns and layoffs elsewhere in the city.

The automaker said Wednesday that it would phase out operations here during the next two years. More than 870 workers will lose their jobs if VW does not find a buyer for the plant, the company said.

FMC Corp. laid off 400 workers last month and Union Carbide has said it will eliminate 15 percent of its white-collar work force.

''It's hard to believe that a city generally regarded as one of the most prosperous in the state now faces such negative prospects,'' said South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb.

Aubrey Orcutt, chairman of the South Charleston Area Development Corp., said VW's decision last year to invest $200 million in the plant and hire 150 additional workers gave the city a false sense of security.

''In our ignorance, we thought everything was well, when obviously it was not,'' Orcutt said.

Gov. Arch Moore said he was looking for a prospective buyer and Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., said he would seek low-interest financing for any company that would like to purchase the operation.

The VW plant was designed to stamp out body panels and other parts for half a million U.S.-made cars a year. Sluggish sales of Volkswagens kept the plant from producing at full capacity and contracts with Detroit's Big Three automakers did not provide enough work, the company said.

The company said outside suppliers or VW workers in Mexico or Brazil might provide metal stampings after the South Charleston plant closes.

Americans' tastes for fuel-sipping tiny cars turned back in the past few years to bigger models, while the Japanese made inroads into the subcompact car market, their cars selling for $1,000 and more below the Rabbit and Golf.

''The plan just didn't happen,'' VW spokesman Joseph Bennett said from company headquarters in suburban Detroit.

The United Auto Workers union, which represents workers at the Westmoreland County, Pa., and West Virginia plants, had no comment, said spokesman Karl Mantyla.

The UAW contracts, which include closing bans at the plants, expire March 10.