Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. plan to ratchet up first-quarter production to more normal levels, signaling their confidence that the worst of the auto recession has passed.
"The industry appears to have stabilized," said George Pipas, Ford's chief sales analyst.
Ford, which built a decade-worst 349,000 vehicles in the first quarter of an anemic 2009, plans to boost first-quarter production next year 58 percent to 550,000.
GM has an even bigger increase in mind. The carmaker says its first-quarter production will jump 75 percent to 650,000 vehicles from 371,000 in the year-earlier period.
In the first quarter this year, the industry was in the throes of its worst recession in 30 years, and GM was spiraling toward a government bailout and quick trip through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
But that was then. "We're hoping things will continue to rebound," GM spokesman Chris Lee said.
First-quarter 2010 production estimates at Ford and GM are close to those projected for the fourth quarter of 2009 -- an indication that volumes are stabilizing, spokesmen for both automakers said.
On the other hand, Chrysler Group may be the industry's biggest cause for worry, said auto analyst Haig Stoddard at IHS Global Insight in suburban Detroit.