Eight automakers are poised to set North American light-vehicle production records this year, according to LMC Automotive.
Companies expected to set records are Toyota Motor Corp., BMW AG, Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, Volkswagen AG, Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., Daimler AG and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (Subaru), according to LMC.
If the suburban Detroit research firm's projections prove accurate, they offer more evidence that foreign automakers are determined to take advantage of North America's growth and avoid costly currency fluctuations.
They also suggest that the North American market is starting to look more like Europe's, with eight or 10 rivals fighting for share.
LMC Senior Analyst Joe Langley notes that this year's likely industry production of 14.9 million units, up 14 percent from 2011, won't come close to the North American record of 17.2 million light vehicles set in 2000.
But the capacity utilization rate continues to rise -- a sign of the industry's profitability. Langley expects North American assembly plants to operate at 85 percent of straight-time capacity this year, up from nearly 75 percent in 2011.
"Overall, the auto industry seems to be an unusual bright spot for the economy," Langley said. "It's still healthy."
Automakers are betting on steady sales growth for the rest of the year.
In the fourth quarter, automakers are expected to increase North American light-vehicle production by 2 percent year-on-year to 3.5 million vehicles, according to LMC.
The big quarterly gainers will be Hyundai-Kia, with output expected to rise 26 percent, and Volkswagen, 25 percent.
Langley said VW's Chattanooga assembly plant is operating at full capacity, while Hyundai is accelerating output of its redesigned Santa Fe Sport compact crossover, which is built in Kia's plant in West Point, Ga.
This month, Hyundai also launched a third shift at its plant in Montgomery, Ala., which produces the Elantra compact and Sonata mid-sized sedan, Langley said. The Korean automaker's production "could be even bigger, but they're maxed out," Langley said.
Honda is expected to boost production nearly 19 percent. A year ago, Honda was recovering from production disruptions caused by the earthquake in Japan. Langley expects Honda to produce the redesigned Accord sedan -- scheduled to go on sale Wednesday, Sept. 19 -- at close to full speed.
By contrast, Chrysler Group is expected to cut fourth-quarter output 8 percent and General Motors 5 percent.
GM is retooling its truck plants to produce the redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.
Meanwhile, Chrysler is retooling its Sterling Heights, Mich., plant to assemble the next-generation Chrysler 200 compact sedan. The company also has idled its Toledo North plant in Ohio to retool for a Fiat-based SUV.
GM and Chrysler are expected to rebound in the first quarter of 2013.