Three years ago, when the price of gasoline shot past $4 a gallon, Detroit's automakers were trapped.
They couldn't give away the boatload of trucks that had long been the bread and butter -- and profit generators -- of the Detroit 3. With gasoline prices rising and with scant offerings in the small-vehicle segment, Detroit's sales plunged even before the financial crisis invaded in September 2008.
Last week oil passed $100 a barrel, and gasoline prices rose to $3.50 a gallon in some markets. This time the Detroit 3 are in a better position to make money and not give away cars.
Another way of looking at it: The price of a barrel of oil has caught up to the industry's newfound capability and efficiency.
From the Chevrolet Cruze to the Ford Fiesta to the upcoming Fiat 500 and recent and coming hybrids, there are plenty of fuel-efficient alternatives in multiple segments from many automakers. Everybody, not just Detroit, is emphasizing fuel economy, and "40 mpg on the highway" has become the new industry catchphrase.
A big winner in the new strategy is Ford, which made a decision to downsize its engines and shrink its lineup with fun-to-drive cars. Ford's product position has ratified CEO Alan Mulally's strategy to offer a fuel-efficient vehicle in nearly every segment.
Some questioned Mulally's vision to transform a Michigan factory that once produced profit-rich Expeditions into a factory that produces multiple versions of the Focus small-car platform. Right now, that decision looks pretty good.
The industry, as a whole, is on the right track. And the price of oil no longer is an inverse indicator of Detroit's future.