The auto industry has just wrapped up a very good year, and indications are that there will be no letdown in 1999. But the industry must not drift into euphoria. There are questions and problems as the New Year dawns, and the industry - domestic and international - must face them.
Merger mania: Just about every independent motor vehicle maker except the five superpowers (General Motors, Ford, Toyota, DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen) is said to be ripe for takeover. Is that good? When does merger mania become a liability rather than an asset?
Southeast Asia: The economic meltdown shows no real signs of abating. Even Japan is included. The United States has not been affected - yet. Will that change?
No voice: The demise of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association leaves the domestic producers without a united voice in Washington. That's not much of a problem today; the Republicans and the Democrats are too busy beating up on each other to bother the auto industry. But that won't last.
Ford buyouts: How far will Ford Motor Co. go in buying independent dealerships and turning them into company stores? Republic Industries and others are taking dealerships public. Ford is taking them in-house. Is the era of the independent dealer nearing an end? Is the new approach good? Can these approaches - and independent dealers - thrive together?
Public ownership: The Republic Industries juggernaut rolls on, but the public is not embracing the stock of the publicly owned giants.
General Motors: An awful year - 54-day strikes; labor relations in chaos; 1998 market share below 30 percent; major changes in marketing approach; vehicle divisions virtually wiped out. Can The General stage a comeback in 1999?
Labor relations: 1999 is a contract year for GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler Corp. Will the manufacturers - especially GM - be able to stave off a strike that hurts everyone and benefits no one? D day is Sept. 15.
DaimlerChrysler: The honeymoon is over; how well will the marriage work? A jewel of the U.S. auto crown now is part of an international organization based in Germany. What does that portend for the U.S. auto industry?