One reason for the spike in small-car sales -- and the increased interest in the market among automakers -- is the crackdown on imports of older used cars from the U.S. that often had their titles altered to hide damage or even theft, industry officials say. That means consumers are gaining access to safer and more reliable vehicles that are priced below the same models exported abroad. Rosales said he can remember no time in history when Mexicans could buy the same model at a lower price than Americans.
There's more to the market than small, locally made cars. Sales of crossovers and SUVs rose 18 percent through September and made up a fifth of the market. Most of the top light trucks are imported, like the Chevrolet Equinox, Nissan X-Trail and Kia Sportage.
Rosales said Mexicans are buying more crossovers because more affordable models are arriving. However, these vehicles still can't compete on pure price with entry-level sedans.
Mexican industry officials are also pushing hard to expand the local market for automakers that set up shop here.
Eduardo Solis, president of the Mexican Automotive Industry Association, said the industry is pushing the government for more tax deductions for car buyers since overall auto penetration is relatively low, even for a Latin American nation.
If sales could be stretched to 2 million vehicles a year, or even 2.2 million, Mexico would likely get auto investments equivalent to two new car plants, Solis said.
"We have to ignite the internal market," he said. "We have to democratize access to a new car."
Rosales sees sales as high as 1.6 million cars and light trucks this year, more than double the number sold during the depth of the global recession in 2009.
There are a few danger signs ahead: Mexican consumer confidence is weakening amid government budget cuts; economic growth is slowing; and there is uncertainty over the U.S. presidential election given Donald Trump's criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Rosales thinks sales growth will move into the single digits for 2017.