They started out as anomalies, experiments by Japanese automakers to see if American workers could emulate the vaunted quality and productivity of Japan.

To say they succeeded is a pitiful understatement. Nissan Motor Mfg. Corp., in Tennessee, the first to break ground in the U.S. in 1983, has been rated the most productive plant in North America for the fifth year in a row, while its products also win numerous quality awards.

Honda of America Mfg. Corp. and Toyota Motor Mfg. Corp. - also quality and productivity leaders - produce the two top-selling cars in the U.S.

The success of Mercedes-Benz in Alabama and BMW in South Carolina, which are forced to continue expanding to meet demand for their U.S.-built products, shows success in North America isn't merely a Japan-driven phenomenon. Taken together they are rapidly changing the face - and the epicenter - of the North American auto industry. But too often they are referred to en masse when each is a highly distinctive entity. The following seven pages give a thumbnail sketch of what's happened and what lies ahead for each company not affiliated with the U.S. Big Two or DaimlerChrysler AG.