MEXICO CITY — Mexico has long been king of the cheap small car, at least on this side of the world.
The original Volkswagen Beetle was made locally until the early 2000s, and the diminutive cars that replaced it helped fuel years of sales gains that culminated in a record 1.6 million auto deliveries last year.
Likewise, Mexico has long been a reliable export platform for the no-frills Nissans and four-cylinder Fords whose slim U.S. margins are more easily met south of the border.
But the auto industry here is outgrowing those stereotypes as it joins global trends on the showroom floor and the shop floor. A generation of new light trucks is being made and sold here, upending traditional notions of Mexico's place in the North American auto industry.
The nation's success beyond the econoboxes that once defined its aspirations is fueling anxiety over the North American Free Trade Agreement — which President Donald Trump may eventually kill — even as it makes the regional trading bloc more competitive overall.
"This is really evidence, if you put it all together, of a maturing Mexican automotive industry and a growing base of capability, which means it's also growing as a competitor for the various automotive manufacturing regions in the U.S. and Canada," said Bernard Swiecki, an analyst at the Center for Automotive Research.