* Targets 1.5 mln annual unit sales in region by 2015
* Sees industry-wide unit sales rising 5-7 pct per year
* "One of the fastest-emerging regions," region head says (Updates with overall regional forecast)
By Ben Klayman
DETROIT, June 6 (Reuters) - General Motors Co (GM.N) expects to sell 1.5 million vehicles a year in South America by 2015, up from 1.03 million last year, the head of the largest U.S. automaker's operations in the region said.
That forecast implies growth rates at the high end of the overall 5 to 7 percent industry-wide pace that Jaime Ardila, GM's South American president, forecast in a meeting with reporters at the company's headquarters in Detroit on Monday.
"We see it as one of the fastest-emerging regions of the world," Colombian-born Ardila said of South America.
But GM does not yet have any plans to add new car factories on the continent, the 55-year-old executive said. GM does plan to open a small engine manufacturing facility in southern Brazil next year.
"We're not thinking about new plants yet," he said. GM has eight manufacturing and assembly plans in South America.
The company plans to sell 700,000 vehicles in Brazil this year, up from 657,000 last year. In Chile, it aims to sell 50,000 vehicles this year, up from 47,000 last year.
GM named South America last year as its fourth tier of regional management, putting it on par with North America, Europe and the rest of the world in the largest U.S. automaker's structure.
The unit, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is the company's third-largest market after China and the United States.
Last month, GM Chief Executive Daniel Akerson compared South America's growth prospects to those of China. It expects to introduce 40 new vehicles in South America in 2011 and 2012.
"In a sense, South America is kind of the new version of what China was or Asia was a year or two ago," Akerson said on the May 5 earnings conference call with analysts. (Reporting by Ben Klayman; writing by Scott Malone, editing by Andre Grenon and Matthew Lewis)