It's also hard to argue with the Chinese auto market, where General Motors holds 15.5% of the market share. The Chinese auto market is huge, and is only likely to expand in the coming years, where it's estimated that 30 million vehicles will be sold in 2020.
To read a more detailed breakdown of the nation's auto picture, read Domestic and International Fire Lights Ford's Ignition.
Side by Side
Here is where one can make an argument for both Ford and General Motors. In one aspect, the market leader, GM, has a large exposure to a rapidly increasing market, which should bode well for a company that has 45% of its stock value tied to the country.
On the other hand, Ford is rapidly taking market share in China and quickly building out its infrastructure. Management hopes to have a 5% market share by the end of 2013, up from 2.5% in 2011, along with doubling its vehicle production to 1.7 million units by 2015.
To me, it seems like Ford has more to gain and General Motors has more to lose, at least in the long-term. This is especially true if the global economy takes a hit.
Europe has continued to be a struggle for each of the automakers, with both striving to be at break-even operation by mid-decade.
The companies both seem so similar at times: Close in total U.S. sales, revenues ($115 billion for GM and $102.9 billion for F, year-to-date, respectively), and the fact that they both recently reported record profits (2011 for GM and 2012 for F).
One thing that's surely held back shares of General Motors was the once-large position held by the U.S. government. General Motors Round II details the re-launch of the automaker and the government's role within the company.
But 2013 has seen much of the position liquidated. Reportedly, the U.S. government could hold as little as a 4% stake in the automaker, down from 7% on Sept. 26. That 4% would be roughly equivalent to 70 million shares. While this might seem like a lot, consider that the government started off with 912 million shares, or 61% of the company.
After the IPO in November 2010, the government dropped its ownership down to 500 million shares, or 26% of the company. It would appear as though the selling is nearly complete, although the image may still bother prospective shareholders.
Perception goes a long way in the investment landscape. When GM imploded, filed for bankruptcy, and re-emerged one year later, the public never saw it as brightly as Ford, which fought off bankruptcy and emerged stronger than ever -- although its management could potentially change soon.
Although Mulally did vow to stay through 2014, if he left to become the next CEO of Microsoft (MSFT), it would be a great loss to the Ford team. Perhaps, though, Ford would continue to do well. Losses in Europe are shrinking, U.S. sales are accelerating and market share in China is growing. The company also pays out a ~2.5% dividend yield -- another reason shareholders might prefer Ford over GM.
GM's larger China market share should drive growth for the next several years, its luxury brands will boost U.S. profitability and the government has nearly unwound its position -- although the continued, systematic selling could hinder the stock price slightly.
However, it doesn't seem as if it has so far. It's basically a wash as for which has fared better this year. Ford is up 32% while General Motors is up 33%. Arguments can be made both ways and I've tried to see evenly through each side.
GM does have likable attributes, undoubtedly. But personally, I prefer Ford for a few reasons. I like the company's stability and the non-role of the U.S. government. I also like Ford's solid dividend and potential for increases down the road or perhaps a share buyback program. Ford is growing faster, rather than trying to maintain a behemoth-like grip on the world's auto market, like GM.
Ultimately, GM's losses could be Ford's gains.
-- Written by Bret Kenwell in Petoskey, Mich.
At the time of publication, the author was long F, V and MA, although positions may change at any time.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.