Production of cars and trucks in North America in 2001 dropped to its lowest level in three years, reflecting a sluggish U.S. economy, rising demand for imports, and a slump in the medium-duty and heavy-duty truck market, according to an article in the Detroit News.U.S., Canadian, and Mexican output of popular passenger cars and light trucks in 2001 dropped 9.9 per-cent to 15.45 million units, down from 17.16 million units in 2000, Ward’s Automotive Reports estimated on Dec. 27, 2001.North American vehicle assembly plants also produced 351,930 medium- and heavy-duty trucks in 2001, down 36.7 percent from 556,046 in 2000. Overall vehicle production for the year -- light-, medium- and heavy-duty -- was 16.04 million units, the lowest level since 1998, when the industry produced 16.03 million units. The drop off in light vehicle output came despite only a modest decline in U.S. new vehicle sales for the year compared with record sales of 17.4 million units in 2000. Through November, U.S. sales of cars and light trucks fell just 1.8 percent, with strong demand for imported cars and trucks offsetting decreased sales of domestic vehicles. U.S. sales of new light vehicles -- cars, minivans, pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles -- are expected to finish the year above 17 million units for the second year in a row. U.S. vehicle output for 2001 was an estimated 11,139,080 cars and trucks, down 10 percent from 2000, Ward's said. Canadian output dropped 14.3 percent to 2.5 million units while Mexican output fell 2.6 percent to 1.8 million units. The lower production levels in 2001, particularly during the first quarter, combined with strong sales in October and November, have left Detroit's automakers with their lowest inventories of unsold vehicles in years. General Motors Corp. accounted for 32.7 percent of North American vehicle production in 2001, including medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, according to Ward's. Ford Motor Co. accounted for 28.3 percent; DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, 14.2 percent; Honda Motor Co., 6.1 percent; Toyota Motor Corp., 5.4 percent; and Nissan Motor Co., 2.8 percent.