The same "external factors" that weighed down Ford's ( F) second-quarter financial performance will be apparent when General Motors ( GM) lays bare its own results on Wednesday morning.

But investors will be more focused on GM's internal factors. How much does the automaker expect to save as a result of its historic buyout offer to employees? How much cash will it have when it completes the sale of its financing arm, GMAC? Will the company enter into an alliance with Renault and Nissan, and if so, what form would the partnership take?

"I don't think anyone is going to be too concerned with what happens with GM in this particular quarter," says Morningstar analyst John Novak. "Most people are expecting better results than last year, but still lackluster numbers. Everyone is going to be keyed in on where they stand with respect to their restructuring program."

On the bottom line, GM will post a big loss due to one-time charges of around $3.84 billion, or $6.90 a share, related to its employee buyout program. About 35,000 hourly workers accepted the automaker's offer to take financial incentives and leave the company, exceeding GM's projections.

Excluding charges, analysts expect GM to report earnings of 52 cents a share, based on an average estimate by Thomson First Call. While individual projections vary from earnings of $1.11 a share down to 18 cents a share, no one is expecting the kind of red ink that GM oozed last year when it posted a second-quarter loss from operations of 56 cents a share.

Wall Street also anticipates a superior performance to Ford, which last week reported a loss of $123 million, or 7 cents a share, for the second quarter. That compares to earnings of $946 million, or 47 cents a share, a year earlier. Adjusted for items, including a charge related to job cuts, Ford recorded a loss from continuing operations of $48 million, or 3 cents a share.

To view Farnoosh Torabi's video take on GM, click here .

The results badly missed Wall Street's consensus forecast calling for a profit of 12 cents a share. Ford CEO William Ford blamed the miss on "external factors," such as high gasoline prices and rising interest rates, which are wreaking havoc on the auto industry. He said the situation requires Ford to accelerate, and possibly overhaul, its "Way Forward" restructuring program, and he promised more details on the company's plans within 60 days.

For GM's part, nobody is expecting much in the way of sales or pricing strength from the world's largest automaker. Auto manufacturers are locked in a summer slugfest, offering financial incentives of all kinds to customers as the companies seek to offset weakening consumer demand.

Both Ford and GM are taking the brunt of the external pain in the global auto industry, because their fleets are weighted toward big, gas-guzzling trucks and sport-utility vehicles, while their Asian-based counterparts dominate the market for lower-margin, fuel-efficient compact cars. It will be a long time before either company can meaningfully transform its product line to be more competitive.

But on the inside, the two companies have approached their predicaments differently, a fact that becomes readily apparent when viewing the stark divergence in their stock prices. GM has led the Dow Jones Industrial Average with a 57% stock gain for the year, marking a sharp rebound from last year's 48% decline.

Ford, meanwhile, keeps creeping lower, down 16% so far this year after shedding 45% in 2005.

"Ford set out on what was really kind of a vague restructuring plan to fix its troubles, and nobody has seen many concrete steps that it has taken yet," says Novak. "GM has executed a number of things that it can point to that show investors it's serious about making aggressive changes."

So far this year, GM has invited Jerry York, a representative from a critical, activist investor group -- Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corp. -- to join its board. It slashed its dividend payment in half. It agreed to sell off majority stakes in its residential mortgage business and its financing arm to private equity firms to raise cash. It executed its massive employee-buyout plan, and now its CEO, Richard Wagoner, is in talks with Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Nissan and Renault, about a game-changing partnership.

Meanwhile, Ford just got around to cutting its dividend earlier this month. Because the Ford family controls the company with 40% of the shareholder voting rights, it could continue to be slow on the uptake. There's little room at the No. 2 U.S. automaker for an activist like Kerkorian to enter the board and shake things up, and that could keep potential partners, like Ghosn, from coming into the fold.

David Healy of Burnham Securities is among the most optimistic analysts about GM's prospects, forecasting second-quarter earnings of $1.10 a share.

Healy says that since more workers than expected took GM up on its buyout offer, the company is replacing about 5,000 of them with temporary workers earning $19 an hour with no benefits. By comparison, their predecessors earned $81 an hour, including pension and health care costs.

"That $62-an-hour difference works out to a savings of about $125,000 a year for each employee," says Healy. "Multiply that by 5,000, and that's $625 million in savings annually."

All things considered, Healy forecasts earnings of $7.34 a share for all of 2006, compared with analysts' consensus estimate of $1.65 a share. As for its cash flow, Healy says that if his "preposterous" forecasts prove correct, GM will recover from last year's "operating cash burn" of $7 billion to record a surplus of $3 billion this year and $9 billion in 2007.

After originally posting a loss for its first quarter of $323 million, GM revised its results to a profit of $445 million after regulators allowed it to change the way it accounted for a health care deal with the United Auto Workers union. It recorded a cash balance of $21.6 billion at March 31, up from $20.4 billion at the end of 2005.

Its sales, though, have continued to languish while its market share in North America erodes. In June, GM sustained a 26% drop in U.S. sales for the month, continuing a string of declines.

Healy stands by his forecasts.

"GM will be far more profitable this year than people are expecting, and Ford will probably surprise to the downside," he says.