TOKYO -- Imagine how much stronger General Motors would be if it launched three additional new-model programs every year, each costing about $1 billion.
It could, if it didn't have to pay for its retirees' health care.
That is one of the most fundamental differences between GM and Toyota Motor Corp. GM pays for the health care of 339,000 retirees - and the number grows every year. In contrast, Toyota pays for fewer than 3,000 retirees' health care in Japan, a number that remains fairly stable.
That difference gives Toyota and other Japanese carmakers a massive advantage over their American rivals.
"The cost of health care in the U.S. is making American businesses extremely uncompetitive vs. our global counterparts," says GM CEO Rick Wagoner.
Toyota and other Japanese carmakers benefit from a national health care plan that reduces its obligations to retirees to almost nothing.
Wagoner and other U.S. auto industry executives are increasingly vocal in seeking government action to address this competitive disadvantage. But Wagoner stops short of seeking a national solution as comprehensive as Japan's.