Rising demand and inventory catch-up, resulting in more overtime and a proliferation of plants working 3-shift or 3-crew schedules, led North American light-vehicle manufacturers to build to 97.1% of their 2-shift straight-time capacity in 2012, based on a WardsAuto analysis.
It was the highest rate since WardsAuto began tracking the data in 2005, well above 2011’s 83.4%, and the most recent trough year of 2009, when manufacturers built to just 51.9% of their capacity.
By country, capacity utilization soared to 124.0% in Mexico in 2012, up from robust totals of 111.4% in 2011 and 102.6% in 2010.
Capacity utilization in Canada reached 99.6% in 2012, compared with 80.2% the prior year. A 15.5% increase in production and one fewer plant in the system with the closure of aoperation in late 2011 mainly were responsible for the gain.
Auto makers in the U.S., which accounted for about two-thirds of 2012 North American output, had strong capacity utilization last year at 91.0%, up from 78.2% in 2011.
Fourth-quarter 2012 capacity utilization was 95.3%, compared with like-2011’s 87.3%. Nearly all manufacturers recorded higher rates than year-ago except the/ joint venture assembly plant in Flat Rock, MI, and Subaru Indiana, which assembles Subarus and Camrys.
Several manufacturers, most with a high mix of plants running 3-shift/3-crew schedules and including Ford,, Kia, , and , had utilization rates above 100% in the fourth quarter.
As might be expected with demand pushing plants past their straight-time limits, manufacturers increased their available production mainly through the addition of third shifts and crews, as well as by improving the 2-shift capabilities at some facilities.
For light vehicles, available production (defined as installed straight-time capacity including third shifts/crews, less downtime for vacation, holidays and long-term retooling for new products) increased by 842,000 units in 2012 from prior-year to 15.6 million. The 2012 total was the highest since 16.4 million in 2007.
Even with the increase, North American manufacturers pushed the envelope by building to 97.8% of their available production, well above 2011’s 88.5%.
The 2012 increase mostly was generated by a gain of 875,000 units in the U.S. from 2011 to 10.5 million. Mexico chipped in another 48,000 and it, combined with the U.S., more than offset a decline of 81,000 in Canada.