US auto industry is no longer all about the Big 3

Chrysler dealership
Sales consultant Marco Bernal, right, shows a Jeep Compass to Veronica Walker at the Hollywood Chrysler Jeep car dealership on Oct. 2, 2012, in Hollywood, Fla.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Americans are buying cars again, four years after the Washington bailout of Detroit.

Read the post-show takeaway

In 2009, two of the three big automakers were in dire straits, finally turning to American taxpayers for help.

Now, Bloomberg Businessweek reports: "Four years ago, GM and Chrysler had to go through bankruptcy, and the federal government was in the process of pouring $80 billion into the industry. Ford Motor, which managed to survive without bailout funds, had asked Congress the year before for an emergency $9 billion credit line."

The article also pointed out, "All three boast healthy bottom lines."

The industry's recovery shows no signs of slowing. Last week, automakers reported April new vehicle sales of about 1.3 million, an annualized pace of about 14.9 million, according to USA Today, which added that it was short of the 15 million pace desired by the industry but still considered healthy.

Beyond those rosy numbers, though, the automakers have their share of headaches. Ford is facing a lawsuit over the mileage claims for some of its hybrid models; Chrysler had a difficult first quarter; and all three auto giants must prepare for much higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards that President Barack Obama has mandated by 2025.

THE TAKEAWAY: What's an American car, anyway?

As Kerri Miller's guests were quick to point out, buying American is not as simple as picking a car from one of the Big Three automakers.

"A car company has not really got a great future unless they have a plan for increasing their sales globally," said Tracy Samilton of Michigan Radio. "If you're not a global automaker, you're not doing the job that you should."

Added Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com: "The Ford Fusion that we just talked about is built in Mexico. ... It's not easy to decide what exactly is an American car." Krebs pointed out that Cars.com publishes an annual list of the top 10 American-made cars. The top three cars on its most recent list:

1. Toyota Camry
2. Ford F-150
3. Honda Accord

Introducing the list, the website wrote:

"In today's global economy, there's no easy way to determine just how American a car is. Many cars built in the U.S., for example, are assembled using parts that come from elsewhere. Some cars assembled in the U.S. from largely American-made parts don't sell well, meaning fewer Americans are employed to build them. Cars.com's American-Made Index recognizes cars that are built here, have a high percentage of domestic parts and are bought in large numbers by American consumers."

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE STATE OF THE AUTO INDUSTRY:

Michelle Krebs, Edmunds.com — Consumer Trends

US Treasury reduced GM ownership to 18 percent since January
"The U.S. Treasury is following through on its announcement late last year that it will sell its remaining stake in General Motors in an 'orderly' fashion, within 12 to 15 months." (Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio)

EPA's Push For More Ethanol Could Be Too Little, Too Late
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could soon issue a final ruling that aims to force oil companies to replace E10, gasoline mixed with 10 percent ethanol, with E15. This move could come just as widespread support for ethanol, which is made from corn, appears to be eroding." (Tracy Samilton for NPR)

Ford Posts Record NA Profits Fueled by New Models
"Ford Motor Co. posted improved first-quarter earnings and a record profit in its home North American market on strong sales and richly contented new models, most notably the Ford Fusion and Ford Escape, as well as stalwarts Ford F-150 and Ford Explorer." (Michelle Krebs, Edmunds.com)

The Hidden Dangers Of Giving Car Advice
"Doctors get asked medical questions at dinner parties, and lawyers are probed with legal questions. Car analysts, testers, and reporters also get asked about cars — but there are dangers to giving car advice." (NPR)

The future of the electric car industry
"A recent scathing review in The New York Times of Tesla's electric car has once again brought the fuel-friendly vehicles under scrutiny." (The Daily Circuit, MPR)

A Gas Tax Is Much, Much, More Efficient Than The CAFE Standards So Why Have We The CAFE Standards?
"A good piece of economic research here (as highlighted by Alex Tabarrok) which explains just why the CAFE standards are such a bad way to try and reduce petroleum demand through lowering the amount of gas that cars use. It's simply much, much, more efficient to reduce demand through a gas tax than it is by fiddling with the fleet efficiency." (Forbes)

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.