Another record year is in store for North America's so-called transplant automakers as their 18 plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico roll toward a 3.5 million-plus unit year. That's more than 13 times bigger than the numbers posted in 1979 when the first Volkswagen Rabbits rolled off the line at Westmoreland, PA.

Car and light-truck production by the non-U.S.-based automakers will make up a little over 20% of total North American production. On the car side, the transplant share of production will be a little over 32%. Transplant trucks will make up a little less than 10% of the 1999 production tally.

What's in store in the next 20 years or so for the 10 automakers with offshore homes?

Michael Robinet, director of forecast Services for CSM Worldwide in Northville, MI, says the share of non-Big Three vehicles produced in North America likely will increase by another 50% in the next couple of decades.

"If you look at it right now, what we call the 'new domestic automakers' (transplants) make up about 21% of North American production - about 3.7 million vehicles," says Mr. Robinet. "By 2020 that could approach 31% or 32% - or 6 million units."

"But you need to put a big asterisk next to that," he quickly adds. "We need to determine what will be 'new domestic' in the future in light of the consolidations that will continue to take place."

He says three or four of those "new domestics" will survive: Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen and Renault/Nissan likely will still exist as automakers 20 years hence.

Michael Flynn, associate director at the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, suggests that Toyota and Honda will continue to increase their market share within North America, but largely at the expense of other Asian automakers and not the traditional Big Three.

"In 20 years, I think Toyota could have an 18% to 20% share of sales and Honda about 15% (roughly doubling their current 10% and 7%, respectively)," says Mr. Flynn.

How will that translate into domestic production?

Mr. Flynn says that by 2020 the five major North American automakers at the time - GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota and Honda - will all end up with a similar proportion of domestic and import production for vehicles sold in North America - something not that different than today's 75/25 split.

To get to those numbers, especially for what Mr. Robinet calls the other Big Three - Toyota, Honda and VW - it will obviously mean added production capacity. Where?

"More than its share of capacity will be going down to Mexico," he says. "Toyota will be making its first foray there, and Honda and VW will be making more of an investment south of the border."

The rest of the added production will be placed in the southern U.S. along the I-75 corridor, he suggests, likely in the North Carolina/South Carolina area.

Mr. Flynn puts a slightly different read on his predictions: There will be some new plant construction by Toyota and Honda - some of it likely in Mexico. But he sees the forces that have lured the Big Three, Nissan and Volkswagen across the border - primarily cheap labor and regulatory advantages - as less of a motivating factor for Toyota and Honda.

"I'm not sure we won't see some acquisition of existing facilities," says Mr. Flynn, rather than seeing a raft of new plants built. The Mitsubishi Diamond-Star plant in Normal, IL, and Subaru-Isuzu in Lafayette, IN, are likely candidates, he says, as well as the shuttered Hyundai plant in Bromont, Que.

As they grow, "The 'other Big Three' will continue to move toward a truly rationalized production system in North America - (less and less components will be shipped in from offshore) close to what the Big Three now have here," says Mr. Robinet

He cautions, however, that the definition of "automaker" could significantly change in the next 20 years. The role of what we call OEMs today could be significantly different.

"We see OEMs moving more to the softer side of the business," concentrating on e-commerce, marketing, recycling, says Mr. Robinet. "They will still hang onto some manufacturing responsibilities," he says, but component makers like Visteon Automotive Systems, Robert Bosch GmbH, Delphi Automotive Systems and others could end up being the true automakers of the future.

"We see that already with Bertone, Valmet and others who are now producing niche vehicles. I think the scales are only going to get bigger," Mr. Robinet concludes.