But GM itself is a cause for new concern among the transplants. In the mid-1980s, the automaker was like a much-battered pinata, dropping market share like candy with each rival's blow. But the General has made enormous strides. It has copied the Japanese system of flexible factory lines and become nimble enough to shift from one product to another as the market changes.
GM also has committed billions of dollars to create new models. First, it was light trucks. Now, once again, the focus is cars.
"This isn't 1984," says Ron Harbour, president of Harbour and Associates in Troy, Mich. "The Big 3 sort of let them have the car market back then. It looks like GM is going to try to reclaim some of that business now."
If so, Toyota and Honda could be vulnerable.
Both Japanese automakers have fueled their U.S. growth with hugely successful and profitable car production in North America. Toyota's Camry sedan plant in Georgetown, Ky., has been running at or above capacity since 1988, despite several expansions. And Honda has been turning out brisk-selling Civics in two North American plants since the same year.
But both automakers face a changing reality. In April, after several months of rising inventories of unsold Civics, Honda took the rare step of cutting Civic production by 6,000 cars a month at its East Liberty, Ohio plant.
To patch up the excess capacity, Honda has shifted 2,000 Accords a month out of its plant in Marysville, Ohio, to build at East Liberty. But that leaves Honda with a net reduction of about 4,000 cars a month at a plant that has 2,600 employees and a proud history of no layoffs.
At Toyota's plant in Kentucky, there is no sign of trimming Camry output. The car remains popular. But in an era of big customer rebates, the car is losing some of its luster with Toyota retailers. The Camry, a traditional bread-and-butter profit center for Toyota dealers, has become almost a breakeven product. Dealers are increasingly looking for new models from Toyota, even as the automaker employs 7,000 in Georgetown producing the Camry, Avalon sedan and Solara coupe.
Such pressures are hardly unique to the foreign-based manufacturers. Ford is studying whether to close its Atlanta assembly plant, which builds what used to be the most popular car in America, the Ford Taurus.
And the Chrysler group, which grew rich in the 1980s and 1990s dominating the minivan market, faces a tidal wave of minivan competition from Nissan, Honda, Toyota and others.
This type of competition is largely unfamiliar territory for the New American Manufacturers.
"If they want to sustain their growth here, these factories are going to have to turn out models in new segments," says CSM's Robinet. "And I don't think the Big 3 are just going to sit around and let that happen so easily anymore."