As a side effect of the current industry downturn and the subsequent realignment of capacity at America's major domestic car manufacturers, the once-Big Three could be outstripped in North American production by a combination of foreign companies by 2012, including BMW and Porsche-owned Volkswagen, according to a study released today by Grant Thornton LLP.

Readers with acute memories will recall a series of articles we've run over the past several months documenting the rise of many carmakers to production levels that exceed Chrysler and General Motors individually. Ford, though it too will be outstripped by foreign carmakers, is on the brink of passing GM's production levels itself.

The latest study argues that because American carmakers plan to draw down production by over 4 million units to about 7.5 million units annually, that will put them just behind the combination of all other automakers, which have announced plans that would increase their total output by 20% to slightly over 8 million units.

Pitting three brands against six or more isn't precisely fair, but it would be the first time that foreign production has outpaced domestic in North America, should it happen by 2012.

BMW, one of the key brands pushing the expansion, is building new plants for the Mini to induce double digit growth, and has plans to nearly double its own-brand capacity by 2012 as well.