American Honda Motor Co. Inc. says 83.8% of the vehicles it sold in the U.S. last year were North-American-built, its highest percentage ever of sales for North American vs. imported models.

Honda, which says it has maintained a 75% local-production rate or higher since 1996, built 1.03 million units at its seven North American plants in 2009, Ward’s data shows.

Ward’s predicts Honda’s North American builds will increase to 1.29 million next year. However, the figure still is below the 1.43 million and 1.42 million units Honda assembled in North America in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

“As part of our long-standing commitment to build Honda and Acura products close to our customers, we have steadily deepened our automobile manufacturing roots in the U.S. and the North America region,” Tetsuo Iwamura, president & CEO of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., says in a statement.

“Using our flexible manufacturing capacity, we plan to continue to maintain our local production levels at approximately 80% of our annual sales.”

Former Honda Motor Co. Ltd. CEO Takeo Fukui told Ward’s in 2007 he would like to see Honda possibly exceed 100% local production and export the remaining 20% of units not needed for the North America market.

More than 27,000 North-American-built Hondas were exported last year, the auto maker says.

Honda’s local production rates have been a point of pride for the auto maker, exceeding the rate of other Japanese competitors

Although an increase of 7.6 points over 2008, 62.5% of rival Toyota Motor Corp.’s sales in the U.S. last year were North-American-built models.

The high local production rate also gives Honda a financial advantage given the currently strong yen and weak dollar.

Analysts estimate the resurgent yen has sliced hundreds of millions of dollars in operating profit from the Japanese auto maker’s books.