This year marks the third largest vehicle assembly total ever in North America, according to preliminary statistics compiled by Ward's Automotive Reports.

Production rates for cars, light trucks, and heavy commercial vehicles in 2002 totaled 16.74 million units in the United States, Canada, and Mexico -- up 5.9% from 2001. Ward's added that 2002's production total ranks third all-time behind only the 17.65 million units produced in 2000 and the 17.61 million units produced in 1999.

In the U.S., automotive manufacturers produced an estimated 12.85 million units, up 7.5% over 2001's tally, but only the fifth best total ever. U.S. automotive production set its top record in 1999 by building 13.02 million units, said Ward's.

The top producer of cars and light trucks in the U.S. in 2002 was General Motors, with a market share of 33.6%, followed by Ford Motor Co. at 27.7% and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler at 14.1%.