In the automobile business, it's usually true that we prosper or suffer together. When times are good, they are good for everyone. When times are bad, everyone suffers.
Today, the story is different. We are seeing companies prospering with record years, while many other companies are bleeding. Some face bankruptcy, and others are already there.
It is a very strange time.
The U.S. automobile industry is having one of the best years in its 110-year history. Yet the two biggest companies, General Motors and Ford, are looking at massive losses and painful and necessary restructuring.
Even among suppliers, many are thriving while their next-door neighbors seem to be undergoing a period of austerity.
And for dealers, 2005 should have been a pretty good year. As long as manufacturers pay for rebates and incentives, the dealer is going to have a darn good year. Some dealers complain they can't get enough vehicles, while others are trying to avoid buying from a sales bank.
Unfortunately, prospects for the coming year don't portend much of a change for anyone. GM hopes that the introduction of its new SUVs and other light trucks will be the first sign of a turnaround. As gasoline prices drop and stabilize, the economy is poised to help GM.
Ford is counting on another restructuring plan that will be announced right after Detroit's North American International Auto Show. The restructuring can only cast a pall on any positive press that Ford might have hoped for. The cuts aren't going to bring prosperity to Ford. The company needs sales increases.
Meanwhile, the Japanese, particularly Toyota, continue their climb to the top. And the Germans have their own mixed bag of companies with mixed results.
The head of DaimlerChrysler must once again do his magic -- this time on Mercedes as he did on the Chrysler group. Volkswagen is struggling with some different management philosophy. Volkswagen seems to be in a mess.
Once again, it is a fascinating time to be in the automobile business. Whatever the rules were, you might as well throw them out the window. Times change. It might be the best of times today, or it might be the worst.