General Motors enters 2019 as the top carmaker in Mexico.
The distinction comes as GM plans to shutter four U.S. manufacturing facilities this year, putting thousands of jobs at risk and drawing political and labor criticism of its decision to produce so many vehicles in Mexico, particularly the new Chevrolet Blazer SUV.
GM's rise in Mexico is largely because of Nissan scaling back its sedan production there, slipping from the top position. GM, on the other hand, has been retooling its San Luis Potosi plant and Ramos Arizpe facility in recent years to shift to SUV and pickup production.
GM said its boost in production is to meet the strong demand for SUV and pickups, as sedans have fallen out of buyers' favor.
"Production levels in all markets fluctuate with customer demand. For example, the continued growth in crossovers, pickups and SUVs is driving increases in production and employment at GM plants in Flint; Arlington, Texas; and Spring Hill, Tennessee," GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said in an email.
In Mexico, GM and Nissan have been the top two automakers for decades and have "alternated positions depending on what has happened in their production levels," said Stephanie Brinley, principal analyst at IHS Markit.
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While there has been a shift in some of GM's production plans, said Brinley, "This is more on Nissan pulling back production."
Still, GM's rise in stature south of the border hits U.S. hourly workers in the gut, especially after GM announced in November it will close three assembly plants by the end of 2019, including Detroit-Hamtramck, Lordstown in Ohio and Oshawa in Ontario.
Over the last few years, GM has created or shifted production to Mexico, including the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain SUVs and Chevrolet Silverado pickups, said UAW President Gary Jones.