Major industries include iron and steel production, automobile assembly, petroleum processing, chemicals production, and cement making; technologically based industries have been the most dynamic in recent years, but have not outpaced traditional industries. Peak industrial growth was achieved in 1973, when the manufacturing sector grew by 15.8%; growth rates averaging about 7% were posted during 1978–80, rising to 8.3% in 1985 and 11.3% in 1986. Growth slowed significantly during the 1990s. According to the Brazilian Statistical Institute (IBGE), manufacturing rose an annual average of only 0.7% between 1988 and 1998. Manufacturing expanded from 2.6% growth in the third quarter of 2002 to 6.6% in the fourth quarter. Growth in 2002 was particularly pronounced in the construction industry.
In 1969, 3.7 million tons of crude steel were produced; by 1985, this had reached 20.5 million tons; and by 1998 the total output of processed ore was 190 million tons. Domestic production exceeds domestic needs. Vast reserves of accessible, high-grade ore, plus a rapidly expanding domestic demand for these products, favor continued expansion of the steel industry. The major negative factor is lack of domestic soft coal. Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) is the largest Brazilian mining company, responsible for nearly 23% of the mineral output of the country.
Motor vehicle production, Brazil's industrial backbone, experienced a drop of nearly 27% from 1998 to 1999 because of the country's financial difficulties. Production of automobiles went from about two million units in 1997, down to 1.6 million units in 1998. In 2001, Brazil produced 1,798,472 automobiles, an increase of 7% over 2000. In 2000, the country produced 70,304 heavy trucks, an increase of 27% over 1999. The automobile industry is expanding rapidly with major sources of foreign investment and the construction of new manufacturing plants.
Brazil mines and refines petroleum products. The country in 2002 had 13 oil refineries with a total production capacity of 1,786,000 barrels per day. Because of increased domestic refining capacity during the 1970s, imports of petroleum products were less needed, and by 1979, Brazil was a net exporter of petroleum derivatives. In 1998, Brazil only imported 50% of its petroleum. Brazil's petrochemical industry emphasizes the production of synthetic rubber at Petrobrás' synthetic rubber plant. There are also over 500 pharmaceutical laboratories and plants in Brazil, the majority in São Paulo. Over 80% of the industry is foreign-owned. Increased construction demands boosted Brazil's cement production during the 1980s and 1990s. Brazil's electrical equipment industry manufactures computers, television sets, transistor radios, refrigerators, air conditioners, and many other appliances. Brazil has the largest textile industry in South America in terms of installed capacity and output, with nearly half of the spindles and looms in operation on the continent. The Brazilian pulp and paper sector is also large, consisting of more than 220 companies, which together employ approximately 80,000 people in industrial operations, as well as another 57,000 in forestry work and operations. The pulp and paper sector is almost fully privately-owned. The government allowed foreign investment in vital industries since 1995, and supports the sale of any residual parastatal enterprises.