The rate of growth is slowing, but North American vehicle production will rise for a third straight year in 2012, say industry analysts.
Last year North American output increased 10 percent to 13,125,946 light vehicles, according to the Automotive News Data Center and automakers.
"The pace is slowing, but the economy continues to recover," said Anthony Pratt, Polk's director of forecasting for the Americas.
Pratt is one of four forecasters expecting light-vehicle assembly to reach 13.8 million units this year in the United States, Mexico and Canada, joining Jeff Schuster of LMC Automotive, Mike Jackson of IHS Automotive and Paul Taylor, chief economist of the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Pratt expects North American production to surpass 16 million by 2015.
This year, he thinks Mexico output will grow the fastest because of its low production costs and healthy local sales growth, while Canadian production will struggle to grow because the strong Canadian dollar makes it a high-cost manufacturing area.
"Mexico is the emerging market of North America, and its sales are growing organically," he said. "But lots of Mexico's production growth comes from exports to the U.S."
Last year's growth came mostly from the United States -- up 11 percent to 8.4 million units; and Mexico, up 13 percent to 2.6 million. Canadian output grew 3 percent to 2.1 million.
The 13.1 million units produced in North America in 2011 was 53 percent higher than the 8.6 million vehicles built here in 2009. But it is still below production of 15.2 million in 2007, the last full year before the financial meltdown.
In 2011, Toyota and Honda were the only major manufacturers with lower North American output as offshore natural disasters slashed the flow of key parts much of the year. American Honda Manufacturing was down 14 percent to 1.1 million units. Toyota fell 8 percent to 1.2 million.
Other big manufacturers recorded double-digit growth. General Motors was up 20 percent to 3.1 million units, and Chrysler was 27 percent higher at 2.0 million. Ford Motor production gained 13 percent to 2.6 million.
Four other automakers each added more than 100,000 units of North American production last year.
BMW Manufacturing Corp. output jumped 75 percent to 276,064 units in Spartanburg, S.C. Hyundai-Kia pushed production in Alabama and Georgia to 611,878 units, from 454,165, up 35 percent. Volkswagen output climbed 25 percent to 542,300 units, mostly on growth at its Puebla, Mexico, plant. But it also built 32,259 Passats at its new Chattanooga plant.
Nissan's gain of 15 percent was the smallest of the four transplants on a percentage basis. But its 2011 total of 1,170,190 was enough to outdo Honda and come within 6,000 units of Toyota.
Nissan also became the first Mexican manufacturer to top 600,000, as it built 400,456 vehicles at Aguascalientes and 206,631 at its Cuernavaca plant.
Last week Nissan announced plans to build its third Mexican assembly plant, a $2 billion factory in Aguascalientes. The plant will have initial annual capacity of 175,000 light vehicles. Production is scheduled to begin by the end of next year.