The Canadian province of Ontario will retain its title as North America’s top-producing region for vehicle assembly, according to a Ward’s projection.

The achievement marks the sixth consecutive year Ontario has ranked No.1 in annual output, though 2009 saw a precipitous drop sparked by bankruptcies and the global recession.

Michigan will finish second, as it has since 2004, when Ontario passed the Great Lakes state for first place. Perennial third-place finisher Ohio retains its position.

Meanwhile, Ward’s forecasts this order will not change in the foreseeable future, but next year likely will see some leapfrogging in the fourth, fifth and sixth positions.

Ward’s estimates total 2009 North American vehicle production at 8.68 million units, a 32.8% shortfall from 2008’s 12.9 million.

Finished-vehicle output from Ontario’s 10 assembly plants is expected to total 1.48 million units this year, down from 2.07 million in 2008. While the global recession factored into the decline, so did the Chapter 11 filing in May by the former Chrysler LLC.

Waning volumes contributed to the permanent closure of General Motors of Canada Ltd.’s truck plant in Oshawa, ON, while bankrupt Chrysler LLC put the brakes on North American vehicle production during its 6-week restructuring.

But the province got a boost from the ramp-up at Toyota Motor Mfg. Canada Inc.’s new plant in Woodstock, ON. Opened in late 2008, it is home to the Toyota RAV4 small cross/utility vehicle. Toyota also lays claim to the most prolific plant in Canada. Through November, output from the auto maker’s Cambridge, ON, site was 218,679, according to Ward’s.

Cambridge, which produces the Lexus RX350 CUV and the Toyota Matrix C-segment car, usurps GM’s Oshawa 2 plant for the No.1 spot. Oshawa 2 is GM’s lone source of Chevrolet Impala production.

Chrysler’s Windsor assembly plant, home to the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans, is expected to finish second this year to Cambridge. Through November, its output was 174,408, down from 268,342 during the first 11 months of last year.

Michigan achieves its second-place ranking for vehicle output even though it has just one assembly site among the nation’s top 10 producers for 2009 – Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn, MI, truck plant.

Dearborn built 215,623 Ford F-Series and Lincoln pickups through November, up from 181,548 in like-2008 and good enough for fourth place among the most productive plants in the U.S.

However, Michigan is home to a total of 13 vehicle assembly plants, the most of any single North American region. Through November, its finished-vehicle output totaled 1.14 million units compared with 1.85 million in like-2008.

Ohio’s six assembly plants produced 776,150 vehicles through November, slightly more than half its 1.48 million-unit prior-year total. The Buckeye State’s saving grace was Honda of America Mfg. Inc.’s plant in Marysville, which built 277,806 units of the Honda Accord midsize and Acura TL midsize cars, as well as the Acura RDX CUV.

In the first 11 months of 2008, Marysville’s output totaled 459,700 vehicles – good enough for the top spot in North America. But expect last year’s second-place finisher, Toyota Motor Engineering & Mfg. North America Inc.’s plant in Georgetown, KY, to take the crown in 2009, according to Ward’s.

Through November, Georgetown – home to the Toyota Avalon, Camry and Camry Hybrid sedans and the new-for-’09 Venza CUV – produced 315,946 vehicles, though down from like-2008’s 458,036.

Expect Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri to finish fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, this year as Indiana jumps from seventh place in 2008 and Missouri moves down one notch, displacing Alabama.

According to Ward’s, Kentucky’s four assembly plants will produce 645,780 vehicles by year-end, Indiana’s five plants will make 537,775 and Missouri’s two sites will account for 475,188.

Honda Civic output from HAM’s new plant in Greensburg likely will propel Indiana to a fourth-place finish in 2010, followed by Kentucky. A Ward’s forecast also has Alabama reclaiming its hold on the No.6 spot.

Mexico’s rankings are unchanged, with Puebla outbuilding Aguascalientes 322,623 units to 222,500. No change in their order of finish is expected next year.

Puebla, which ranks eighth in North American output this year, is home to Volkswagen de Mexico S.A. de C.V.’s production site for medium-duty trucks, plus the Beetle, Bora and Jetta car lines.

Nissan Mexicana S.A. de C.V., which produces the Nissan Platina, Sentra, Tiida/Versa and Renault Clio small cars at its plant in Aquascalientes, ranks 13th in North America.

emayne@wardsauto.com