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Cars for sale on the lot at the Toyota dealership at 677 Queen St. East in Toronto on March 3 2014.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toyota Motor Corp. is poised to win the title of Canada's largest vehicle producer in 2015 – the first time it has done so and the first year a company other than one of the Detroit Three auto makers has built the most vehicles in Canada.

The two Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. plants – in the Ontario cities of Cambridge and Woodstock – cranked out a record 590,723 vehicles in 2015, 23 per cent more than they did in 2014.

Final numbers aren't in for all auto makers yet, but General Motors Co., which was in second place behind Toyota Motor Canada after November production, is estimated to have produced about 579,000 vehicles in 2015 at factories in Ingersoll, Ont., and Oshawa, Ont.

GM was the country's largest auto producer for decades, assembling more than one million vehicles annually during some years in the 1990s and 999,126 as recently as 2005. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV surpassed GM in 2014.

"That is really kind of a sea change in how we think about things" in the auto industry in Canada, said Dimitry Anastakis, a history professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., who has written extensively about the Canadian auto sector.

Toyota has "spent a lot of money in Canada and they've opened a new plant relatively recently. We're being rewarded for that – Canadians are being rewarded well because of Toyota's willingness to invest in this country," Prof. Anastakis said.

Toyota's rise to become the largest assembler in Canada underscores policy decisions made decades ago that encouraged that auto maker and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. to open plants in Canada, said industry analyst Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. Honda and Toyota assembled about 40 per cent of the vehicles made in Canada last year.

The 8,000 employees at the two assembly plants and the Ontario and Canadian economies as a whole are also benefiting from the popularity of the RAV4 crossover, which is assembled in Woodstock and will be added to the Cambridge plant later this decade. It's the No. 2 seller for the company in Canada, and No. 3 in the U.S. market.

Toyota Motor Canada is proud of the production record it set last year and the two quality awards it won in 2015, spokeswoman Suzanne Baal said. "We see it as proof of the high quality and dedication of our team members," Ms. Baal said.

The bad news for the Canadian economy – and the key role the auto industry plays in the country's manufacturing sector – is that vehicle production fell in this country despite record sales in both Canada and the United States, the two largest markets for autos built at Canadian assembly plants.

Output grew, however, in both the United States and Mexico, which meant that Canada's share of North American production fell to 12.9 per cent through the end of November from 14 per cent a year earlier.

Much of that is because of a 90-day shutdown at the Fiat Chrysler Automotibles NV minivan plant in Windsor, Ont., but the permanent shift by GM of Chevrolet Camaro assembly out of Oshawa, Ont., to Lansing, Mich., also reduced overall production in Canada.

Whether vehicle production remains steady in Canada depends on whether GM decides to continue making vehicles at its two plants in Oshawa later this decade, when the mandates for the vehicles now made there expire.

The future of the two plants is one of the key issues facing Unifor, which represents the workers there and at other Detroit Three factories in Ontario, during negotiations on a new contract that will take place later this year.

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