Work With Competitors to Survive: A Lesson From GM

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Want to guess what the stock market will do next week? Good luck. With turbulence the new status quo, there's only one economic prediction I'm willing to make with reasonable certainty: 2008 will end go down as a miserable year for U.S. automakers.

The auto industry was already at the bottom of a very steep downswing, thanks in part to the summer's record-high gas prices. Then came the global financial system's near-total meltdown, and it looked like the big car companies were headed for life support.

Not long after General Motors' ( GM) stock hit a stomach-churning 53-year low, we began hearing whispers about talks between GM and Chrysler, currently owned by private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. News that the Big Three might become the Big Two could be taken as yet another sign that the U.S. economy is in serious trouble.

But it could it also could serve as an encouraging sign, a symbol of perseverance against tough odds? This is a make-or-break year for many small businesses, as owners struggle with declining sales and tight credit. When you're in a fight for survival, you have to consider all options -- even working with competitors you once battled against. You may find you have more in common than you think.

Most of the quickie takeovers we've seen in recent weeks have shown clear benefits for the buyers. Bank of America ( BAC) bought Merrill Lynch ( MER) because Merrill brought with it investment banking and brokerage expertise. Wells Fargo ( WFC), based in California, wanted Wachovia ( WB) because it had branches and business ties elsewhere in the country, which would help make Wells Fargo a national player.

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