Then along came Daimler-Benz, and there was a merger of equals that turned out to be a takeover of Chrysler by a German corporation. Now there are two American companies in Detroit plus a German company called DaimlerChrysler.
If things keep going the way they are, it won't be long before the Big 3 are General Motors, Ford and Toyota.
As long as Chrysler was a U.S. company, it seemed as if there was a rule or an understanding that Toyota had to be a bit circumspect about its position in the United States and, in particular, had to be cautious about Chrysler.
Now that Chrysler is a German company, whatever restrictions had existed for Toyota have been eliminated.
Look at what's happening. It won't be that long before Toyota overtakes Chrysler in the United States as No. 3 in sales. Toyota's share increases every month, and Chrysler's continues to fall. If you add Mercedes cars and trucks to the Chrysler total, it will only delay the inevitable.
One thing is certain. Toyota builds many cars and trucks consumers want to buy. They have the quality and represent value to the American buyer. Nobody is handing Toyota anything. The company and its dealers are scrapping for every sale.
Meanwhile, DaimlerChrysler executives may not be worrying too much about whether the company is No. 3 or No. 4. They are concentrating on being profitable, which may give Toyota an opportunity that fits well with Toyota's ambitions.
Circumstances can change. It was only a year ago that some predicted Ford would overtake General Motors. What a difference a year makes.
The purchase of Chrysler by Daimler-Benz has changed a lot of rules. And perhaps the most significant one is that the United States is no longer a market only for American companies. This has become a global business - if not in product, then at least in corporate ownership and management. And that won't change.
There is a new structure in the United States, and we might as well get used to it.