No more excuses for the Detroit 3.
Just two years removed from their near-death experience, U.S. automakers have a glistening opportunity to take back some of the market share they have hemorrhaged over the past two decades.
Toyota's recall crisis last year cracked open the door just as the Detroit 3 were picking themselves up off the mat. Now Toyota and other Japanese rivals will be hobbled by quake-related production drops in the coming months -- as a recovering U.S. economy brings shoppers back into showrooms.
Brad Sowers, a Chevrolet dealer in St. Louis, says Honda and Toyota customers are showing up at his store.
"We've been talking about it forever, but we're actually starting to see it," says Sowers.
A dearth of colors or trim packages on Japanese brands could be just enough to nudge lifelong import customers -- or first-time buyers -- into Detroit 3 dealerships. They might be surprised with the rejuvenated product lineups they find.
General Motors and Ford Motor Co. in particular are launching fuel-sipping cars just in time for $4-a-gallon gasoline. Having pared brands, both have greater focus and marketing muscle to put behind new vehicles such as the Ford Focus compact and the Chevrolet Sonic small car.
Ford and GM also are sporting solid balance sheets and heady profits despite relatively low sales volumes. Note the $2.6 billion first quarter profit Ford posted last week, fueled by new models. Chrysler Group is paying off its government loans and turning a profit on operations.
"All these different factors add up to a positive perfect storm for the domestics, and a negative one for the Japanese," said Dave Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Of course, it's too early to declare anyone safe from the parts shortages crippling Japanese manufacturers in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. But recent upbeat comments suggest U.S. automakers could sidestep the worst of it.
"So far, so good," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, told Automotive News last week when asked about the impact on Ford's North American business. GM CEO Dan Akerson gave a similar answer last week in an interview with Reuters.