CELAYA, Mexico — Mexico is on track to become the United States’ No. 1 source of imported cars by the end of next year, overtaking Japan and Canada in a manufacturing boom turning the auto industry into a bigger source of dollars than money sent home by migrants.
The boom is raising hopes Mexico can create enough new jobs to pull millions out of poverty as northbound migration slows sharply, but critics caution most of the new car jobs are low-skill and pay too little.
Mexico’s low and stagnant wages have helped keep the poverty rate between 40 and 50 percent since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement two decades ago.
An $800 million Honda plant that opened Friday in the central state of Guanajuato will produce more than 200,000 Fit hatchbacks and compact sport-utility vehicles a year, helping push total Mexican car exports to the U.S. to 1.7 million in 2014, roughly 200,000 more than Japan, consulting firm IHS Automotive said. And with another big plant starting next week, Mexico is expected to surpass Canada for the top spot by the end of 2015.
“It’s a safe bet,” said Eduardo Solis, president of the Mexican Automotive Industry Association. “Mexico is now one of the major global players in car manufacturing.”