The prospect of stronger light-vehicle sales in the U.S., including exports to Canada and Mexico, is prompting WardsAuto to increase its 2012 North America sales forecast to 14.5 million units and anticipated production to 14.9 million.

The boost also is supported by several spot shortages of inventory that auto makers are rushing to fill in the likelihood of stronger export volumes from the region despite economic and political uncertainty in several overseas markets.

The WardsAuto 2013 LV production forecast is being increased as well, based on continuing strong export volume and acceleration of import-vehicle replacements in North America, particularly by Honda.

The 2012 production forecast marks a 14.0% jump from prior-year and a gain of 205,000 vehicles from what WardsAuto expected a month ago. The 2013 forecast climbs 3.0% from 2012 to 15.4 million units, for an additional 186,000 vehicles.

Ford, Nissan and Chrysler will see the largest production gains in 2012. Hyundai and Volkswagen, which will add third shifts later this year at their U.S. plants, also are beneficiaries of the forecast increase.

Ford is adding capacity with the addition of assembly shifts at four plants this year, including Kansas City 2, Chicago and Michigan Assembly in Wayne, MI, in May and the Louisville facility in August.

Three-crew capacity at the Louisville plant will be higher than what was figured in the initial production prediction, so output of the new ’13 Escape cross/utility vehicle is increased for 2012 and the outbound years in the new WardsAuto forecast.

The production forecast is being boosted for the Chicago factory as well, because Ford still is struggling to get inventory up to speed for the Explorer SUV, as export and fleet volume for Explorer and the Taurus sedan are stronger than originally anticipated. Thus, the additional third-crew capacity is expected to be close to fully utilized.

Additionally, the WardsAuto increased sales outlook is applied to the 2012 production forecast for Ford F-Series pickups, favorably affecting output at the Kansas City 2 facility, which is adding a second shift in May, and now is forecast to add a third crew by the end of 2014 after the next-generation F-150 begins production.

Nissan production is forecast to increase due to likely stronger car sales, especially for the redesigned Altima and Sentra and smaller Versa. Export output will increase as well for 2012 and 2013. Nissan is adding a third shift at its Smyrna, TN, plant by the end of this year.

Chrysler’s forecast production will climb in 2012 thanks to the decision to move up the addition of a third shift at the Jefferson North plant from 2013 to November. Jeep Grand Cherokee output is increased in the WardsAuto forecast for this year, as is production of the Ram pickup at Dodge City, in Wayne MI, and the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger at the Sterling Heights.

There are some partial offsets to the increases mainly at General Motors, where output has been reduced in 2012 and 2013 for large Lambda-based CUVS, GMT900 pickups and SUVs and fullsize vans.

The cuts affect GM’s Arlington, TX; Ft. Wayne, IN; Delta Township, MI; Silao, Mexico; and Wentzville, MO, plants Production also has been reduced of some small and midsize cars affecting the Fairfax, KS; Lordstown, OH; and Oshawa, ON, Canada facilities.

Another offset comes from Ford. Because demand for the Escape and Explorer can be fully met in the future, the auto maker’s forecast production volume was pared on the Ford Edge and Flex CUVs.

Other volume cuts are spread among several manufacturers.

hstoddard@wardsauto.com