earnings today show that no automaker is immune to the current economic malaise, and some may interpret this as a sign that the plight of
, Chrysler and
may not be their fault.
A $4.4 billion loss for Toyota, deeper than it's own forecasts, and a 22% drop in sales for the fiscal year that ended March 31 serve as testimonials to the ongoing credit crunch that has shaken consumers to the core. Toyota goes on to say that more losses are likely this year.
Yes, that does provide some perverse reassurances to those who hope that GM can turn things around. Perhaps it isn't all GM's fault that it reported a $6 billion loss and 47% drop in sales for the fourth quarter. No, not
GM's fault, just mostly.
The big difference is that GM lost more money in a single quarter than Toyota lost in a full year. Another difference is that Toyota has the financial strength to survive without a government bailout or bankruptcy.
What Toyota's poor performance does show us is that GM still has a chance if it can reorganize quick enough and be ready when the market rebound comes. But GM is still fighting with bondholders and unions, who don't seem to recognize that each day the restructuring is delayed gives Toyota and other importers a bigger lead in the race to recover.
If it wasn't for Ford, the U.S. auto industry would be a total embarrassment. Ford ranks as the last American rival to the strength of the importers. Ford only lost $1.4 billion in the first quarter, which in this environment is sadly a stand-out performance. And Ford is doing it without billions of dollars in taxpayer loans that are flowing into General Motors and Chrysler.
Chrysler offers no hope for a resurgence of the U.S. auto industry. It doesn't count any more. When it merges with Italy's Fiat after emerging from bankruptcy, Chrysler will revert to the status of foreign imposter among the Big Three, like it was when it was owned by Germany's
So unless GM CEO Fritz Henderson can wrestle his bondholders and unions to the ground in a big hurry, we'll be talking about the Big One in Detroit. And that will be Ford.
But perhaps this admonition should be pointed at President Obama since he appears to be the one really calling the shots at GM. If the government doesn't want to end up owning a bankrupt automaker, Obama will need to put his foot down on bondholders and union leaders the same way he did with former GM CEO Rick Wagoner.
Nothing good can come from a prolonged battle over who owns how much of a money-losing company. Better to own less of something with a fighting chance, in my opinion.
Toyota won't be waiting to see what happens. Neither will Ford.
Time is not on GM's side.
Hall is the editor of
. Previously, he served as deputy editor and chief innovation officer at
The Orange County Register
and as a news manager at
in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C. As a reporter, he covered business and financial markets, worked in both print and television in the U.S. and Europe, and conducted in-depth investigative coverage at
in Fort Wayne, Ind. His work also has been published in a variety of newspapers including
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times
International Herald Tribune
. Hall received a bachelor�s degree in journalism and political science from The Ohio State University and has taken graduate management science courses at Boston University.