Trucks are expected to give the biggest boost to North American vehicle production in the first quarter of 1999.
Overall, light-truck production will rise 9.2 percent over the first quarter of 1998, to 2.2 million, according to a forecast by WEFA Group in New York and the Automotive News Data Center.
Car production is projected to increase 7.8 percent. That would bring the industry to 4.4 million vehicles in the first quarter - an 8.5 percent increase over the first quarter of 1998.
Several plants assembling the General Motors Silverado/Sierra full-sized pickups and Ford F-series SuperDuty pickups will be at full production in the first quarter. Overall, Ford Motor Co. is expected to show a 19.4 percent increase in truck output, to 756,000.
Also, Toyota's new truck factory in Princeton, Ind., will add a second shift in February as it expands production of the Tundra pickup. Toyota's overall light-truck output is expected to increase 56.5 percent in the quarter.
The Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., will make 8,000 more sport-utilities, a 57 percent increase. CAMI, the Suzuki-General Motors joint venture in Ingersoll, Ontario, will boost production of its new compact sport-utility to 19,000, up from 4,000 in the first quarter of 1998.
'These numbers are incredibly high for the first quarter,' said Robert Shaw, an analyst with WEFA Group. 'Considering the amount of incentives automakers are pushing - even on '99 models that just came out - something's got to give. You're going to see a huge inventory buildup in the first quarter.'
On the car side, only Honda is expected to show a significant first-quarter decrease in production, from 226,000 this year to 193,000 next year.
Shaw attributes that to a cautious start of Acura TL production. The TL is assembled on the same line as the Honda Accord.
DaimlerChrysler Corp. and GM are expected to show car increases of nearly 15 percent.