Meanwhile, new-vehicle sales in Mexico are at historic highs. Last year, Mexico posted a sales record of 1.35 million vehicles, a 19 percent gain vs. 2014. The previous record, set in 2006, was 1.14 million.
The record pace continues this year, with sales up 18 percent in the first half, significantly beating industry estimates of more moderate gains and softening the drop in exports, with total production falling just 3.1 percent, according to the Mexican Automotive Industry Association.
About half of all new cars sold in Mexico are made domestically, and the other half are imported, mainly from Asia and North America, industry data show.
Mexico's sales turnaround comes after a decade-long battle against economic and political forces that had tilted the market away from modern vehicles and toward older used cars flowing predominantly from the U.S. for several years at an average of around one million units a year, according to industry data.
"We had years where the flow of used vehicles to Mexico was very similar to the entire market for new vehicles," said Francisco Garza, General Motors' vice president of sales for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Reducing that flow, he said, "opens up the domestic market."
A crush of used cars hurts new-car sales indirectly by depressing the price of all pre-owned cars, industry officials argue. If a customer for a new car can't get a decent price at trade-in, deals fall apart and consumers delay their purchases.
That dynamic has changed. Not only did used-car imports fall to just 180,000 last year from 1.6 million in 2006, according to the industry association, but new laws that encourage lending -- along with stepped-up automaker financing -- led to a 23 percent increase in the number of new-vehicle auto loans last year, a trend that continued through the first five months of 2016, the Mexican Automobile Distributors Association reported.