After a year of booming production, North American output will rise only slightly in the fourth quarter as manufacturers cautiously mind their inventories.
Automakers should produce 2.9 million light vehicles in the fourth quarter, up 3 percent from last year, according to a new forecast from CSM Worldwide, of suburban Detroit, a unit of IHS Inc.
Production in the first three quarters soared past the depressed levels of 2009, up 72 percent in the first half of the year and an estimated 25 percent higher for the third quarter. But the fourth-quarter increase will be modest compared with the same period last year, when manufacturers scrambled to restock inventory after the cash-for-clunkers rush.
"The manufacturers want to be optimistic, but they're balancing that with caution in their production planning," said Mike Jackson, director of North American vehicle forecasts for CSM.
J.D. Power and Associates pegs fourth-quarter light-vehicle production at 2.8 million. But a fast start to the autumn selling season could push production higher, said Jeff Schuster, J.D. Power's executive director of global forecasting.
Last week, J.D. Power predicted that new-vehicle retail sales in September would reach 769,000. On a seasonally adjusted basis, that would be one of the highest levels in more than two years, topped only by the cash-for-clunkers month of August 2009.
"There could be some upside to that production number, in light of the current selling rate," Schuster said.
General Motors Co.'s factories will be the industry's busiest, CSM predicts, with an expected output of 667,300, up 9 percent from the fourth quarter of 2009. GM's supply edged higher in August to 61 days on Sept. 1 from 57 on Aug. 1, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Toyota Motor Corp. is expected to cut fourth-quarter production 19 percent to 342,400. That is due in part to this spring's closure of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, California.
In addition, a year ago Toyota was rebuilding inventories after the cash-for-clunkers program, Toyota spokesman Steve Curtis wrote in an e-mail.
Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. will have the smallest production increases of 4 percent, CSM predicts. The forecast for Ford, to 595,000 units, might be on the high side. The automaker said this month it expects to make 570,000 light vehicles in the final three months of the year, which would be flat compared with last year.
Ford's supply held steady in August, coming in at 57 days on Sept. 1, unchanged from Aug. 1.
Jackson said: "Ford has really been a bit of a leader in regard to showing constraint and erring on the side of caution."