001 - Honda Worker
An assembler at Honda's Marysville, Ohio, plant, works on the new Honda Accord Hybrid, due in showrooms before the holidays. Honda

While 44 percent of all vehicles sold in America last year were built somewhere else, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE:HMC) shipped more cars out of the country than it imported.

It's a milestone for the Tokyo-based car-maker, and it represents a wider trend in an industry that's beginning to focus on localized manufacturing to cut costs and take advantage of target markets.

Figures released on Tuesday show the company shipped 108,705 American-made Honda and Acura vehicles from the United States last year, while importing 88, 537 from Japan.

Rich Schostek, Honda North America's executive vice president, told reporters that it's new "net exporter" status was "30 years in the making."

"In just a few decades, the expansion of free trade and growth in U.S. operations has transformed Honda from importing 100 percent of the cars sold in the U.S. to establishing the U.S. as an export and production hub," he said in a press release.

Honda is the country's fifth-largest car-maker by sales. Last year, it built 1.3 million vehicles in America, up 7.4 percent from the year before.

Nearly 7 million of all the 15.6 million vehicles sold in the U.S. last year were built somewhere else. American producers exported 3 three million cars.

"Honda [has] always been the most American of the major Japanese car-makers," said James Rubenstein, an auto industry analyst and professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, to the Los Angeles Times.

"There is this globalization of the industry, and North America is increasingly competitive in the global market," he added.

Honda's plant in Marysville, Ohio, was the first ever to be owned by a Japanese auto company in the United States. Last year, the company shipped cars from American plants to 50 countries, with most exports going to Mexico.

Though American manufacturing job growth remains slow -- last year there were just 12 million jobs, down from 14.3 in 2004 -- automakers are focusing their attention on the region as it recovers from the financial crisis.

According to the Financial Times, 90 percent of Toyota's vehicles sold in China are also made there, and the company hopes to increase this percentage even further in the future.