As the industry scrambles toward the end of the '99 model run, North American auto workers will be scrambling to keep pace with vehicle makers' robust output schedules, calling for a record 8,988,000 cars and trucks to be built in the first half of this year.

That tally will represent 9.1%, or 747,100 units, more than were built in January-June 1998. It's also 8% above the prior record for the period of 8,324,823 set in 1997.

In their latest round of scheduling meetings, auto company production planners looked at the 4,421,100 units they had booked for assembly in April-June a month ago vs. stronger than expected March sales and promptly added another 79,900 units to second-quarter plans. Thus, they boosted planned second-quarter output to a record 4,501,000 vehicles (see data p.4), up 418,300 from the 4,082,000 completions in April-June last year and besting by 4% the prior record for the quarter of 4,326,000 set in 1996.

The big boost in second-quarter assembly plans came on the heels of a record January-March performance, in which some 4,487,000 vehicles were built — including an estimated 36,000-unit overbuild in March. The record first quarter tally marked a 7.8% increase from 4,162,600 assemblies in like-1998 and beat the prior record for the period of 4,215,000 set in 1995.

General Motors Corp. gained the most in the current second-quarter revisions, boosting planned North American output by 2.4% from the level posted a month ago. Ford Motor Co. hiked its prior April-June plan by 2.6%. DaimlerChrysler Corp. cut planned output of vehicles slightly, a result of a reduction in car output that was not entirely offset by increased light truck production.

Among the transplants, AutoAlliance International Inc. (up 24.5%), CAMI Automotive Inc. (up 68.1%) and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. (up 39.7%) are planning the biggest production hikes vs. year-ago for the quarter. BMW Mfg. Corp., Nissan Motor North America Inc. and Subaru-Isuzu Automotive Inc. are among those expecting declines.

The second quarter slate includes planned production of 2.144 million cars in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, up 7.5% from like-1998. The truck build plan for the quarter calls for output of 2.357 million units, a 12.9% rise.

Combined U.S. car and truck output of 3.331 million units is up 9.7% from year-ago, while Canada's scheduled 784,000 completions will mark a 17.9% rise. Mexico's second quarter tally should wind up only about 1.5% above like-1998, with car production off 2.5%.