efe-epaRio de Janeiro

Automobile factories in Brazil churned out 2,699,672 units in 2017, up 25.2 percent from 2016 (2,156,356 units) and the first year of growth following three years of production declines, the National Association of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (Anfavea) said Friday.

Auto plants in Brazil produced around 2.6 million cars and utility vehicles (vans and SUVs) last year, up 25 percent from 2016, Anfavea said.

A total of 82,800 trucks and 20,600 buses were manufactured in 2017, up 37 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

Brazilian vehicle production last year, however, was still far off the record set in 2013, when 3.71 million units were manufactured. Production fell sharply in the ensuing three years - to 3.14 million in 2014, 2.43 million in 2015 and 2.16 million in 2016.

Although auto sales to the domestic market also grew (up 9.23 percent), the increase in production in 2017 was mainly driven by exports, which rose 46.5 percent compared to 2016.

Between January and December, automakers with factories in Brazil exported a record 762,033 vehicles, up sharply from 2016 (520,137).

With that increase, exported vehicles (70 percent of which are destined for neighboring Argentina) accounted for 28 percent of all automobiles manufactured last year in Brazil.

Meanwhile, the number of new vehicles sold rose by 9.23 percent - from 2.05 million units in 2016 to 2.24 million units in 2017, ending a stretch of four years of sales declines.

Sales in 2017, however, are still far below the level in 2012, when a record 3.8 million new units were sold and Brazil ranked among the world's five-largest car markets.

The automotive industry's results in 2017 reflect Brazil's recovery from a deep recession that saw the nation's gross domestic product (GDP) contract by 3.5 percent in 2015 and 3.6 percent in 2016.

Brazil's economy grew 1 percent last year, according to calculations by the government and economists, and is forecast to expand by as much as 3 percent in 2018.