North American light-vehicle production should reach 14.5 million units in 2012, up 10.5% from prior-year’s 13.1 million, WardsAuto forecasts, based on expected LV sales of 14.0 million.

The forecast calls for the highest production volume since 15.0 million assemblies in 2007.

Growth in the region will be stoked by stronger demand in Canada and Mexico; the sourcing of more locally built vehicles in place of import models; increased exports; and inventory buildup.

An increase in days’ supply will be especially important for Asian auto makers that suffered supply-chain disruptions in 2011 resulting from natural catastrophes in Japan and Thailand.

Adding to the case for double-digit gains in 2012 will be increased sales competition as auto makers struggle to maintain or recoup market share. A slew of new or redesigned products coming this year also will fuel output as OEMs seek to draw car buyers to volume models.

Most of these key products, and import replacements, will be in the small- and midsize-car segments.

The biggest year-over-year growth by volume is expected to come from Honda, Toyota, General Motors and Chrysler. Ford, which closed two assembly plants in 2011 that were building aging products now eliminated from its lineup, is forecast for a downturn in production this year.

Longer term, WardsAuto forecasts increased demand and additional capacity for vehicles replacing overseas-sourced models will support an average 5% year-over-year growth in LV production from 2013 through 2015.

Output is expected to be relatively flat for 2016-2017 as the industry calculates the ramifications of the stricter emissions and fuel-economy standards coming in 2016, which already are causing auto makers to reset capacity to a bigger mix of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

If the current WardsAuto outlook plays out, demand and, therefore, production should surge again at the end of the decade and surpass the highs expected between now and 2017.

WardsAuto is calling for total vehicle production, including medium- and heavy-duty trucks, to reach 14.9 million units in 2012, for a 10.3% gain on 2011’s 13.5 million. This will be followed by a 5.3% year-over-year increase in 2013 to 15.6 million units, topping 17 million by 2015.

hstoddard@wardsauto.com