DETROIT - For 1996, the automotive industry is expecting more of 1995: more economic stability, more profit and another year of sales approaching 15 million cars and light trucks in North America. Thus, with the risk of recession relatively remote in the United States, and the auto market in low-growth mode, auto-makers and suppliers are expanding globally to take advantage of emerging markets.
The region receiving the most intense interest now is Asia Pacific, particularly China and India with their huge populations. Even though road systems are primitive, and purchasing power is vastly lower than in the industrialized countries of the West and Japan, automakers are moving fast to participate in what looks like an approaching boom.
``We're going to grow another market about the size of the United States,'' said Martin Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations and corporate economics at Ford.
Production remains strong in North America, however, as automakers continue to look to the region as an efficient, technologically advanced manufacturing platform for both domestic consumption and export to other parts of the world.
Total North American light vehicle sales are forecast at 14.9 million cars and light trucks in 1996, and 15.1 million vehicles in 1997, according to the University of Michigan's annual economic outlook.
The industry also has a better handle on factory capacity, which was pushed to the upperlimits in 1994 and early 1995 as demand peaked.
In South America, where a major boom in manufacturing investment is under way, some 90 percent of auto production is concentrated in Brazil and Argentina.
But what is different about the boom in South America is that consumers are demanding the latest models, not castoffs from Europe and the United States.
``Old technology can no longer go to Latin America to die,'' said Christopher Benko of Autofacts International Inc.