The Big 3's future

Rising Big Three Look For Sustained Flight

By Dale Buss /

November 8, 2011

The Big Three have stepped successfully through a window of opportunity in 2011, picking up sales, market share, momentum, and even favorable new labor contracts.

But can they take bigger advantage in a way that will reshape their fortunes, and the U.S. auto market, for the long term?

Are GM, Ford and Chrysler capable of leveraging their new advantages in product balance, profitability and marketing into a reversal of decades of relative decline?

“Rising,” a new series by AutoObserver, looks at their chances:

After they had brought Ford Motor Co. through the tough recession of the early Eighties, Philip Caldwell and Donald Petersen seemed to almost beg for the next downturn so the CEO and president could demonstrate how thoroughly they’d transformed the company.

Just think if Ford’s old dynamic duo were running the automaker today instead of CEO Alan Mulally and Chairman William C. Ford II: They would see the company now occupying a pinnacle that they couldn’t even have imagined 30 years ago. And along with General Motors and to a lesser extent Chrysler, a re-ascendant Ford stands at the base of an even higher peak.

Whether the traditional American Big Three can turn their hard-won recent gains into long-term achievements of an even bigger magnitude will largely write the story of the U.S. auto industry over the next decade.

While not exactly inviting such a challenge the way Peterson and Caldwell did a generation ago, GM’s chief financial officer, Dan Ammann (top), did sound a confident tone in recent comments to securities analysts.

“We’re not relying on heroic market-share gains,” he said. “We’re not relying on substantial economic recovery.” At the old GM, Amman told the Wall Street Journal recently, “it was more about, ‘How do we get to next year?’ not ‘What do we do next year?’” Now, he added, the company can “look forward three to five years and make sure we’re taking the actions we need to take to drive profitability and success.”

What do Amman and his counterparts at Ford and Chrysler see?  Read more