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Focus in Detroit should be better autos
Detroit's auto industry is "extraordinarily vulnerable," the man on the telephone told the Free Press reporter. It "remains weaker and smaller than ever before. There's an illusory quality to the industry's comeback," he added.

It was Sept. 17, 1986. The man speaking was David Halberstam, whose book "The Reckoning," on the stunning rise of Japan's auto industry and the decline of Detroit's, was new in stores. Halberstam, 73, died Monday in a car crash, the day before Toyota said it had passed General Motors Corp. as the world's top auto seller.

Set aside the fixation with who's No. 1. BMW doesn't care if it's the top-selling car company in the world, and GM shouldn't either.

Instead, let's consider whether it's possible that Detroit's automakers have made so little progress toward closing the competitive gap that Halberstam's quotes from 1986 sound as spot-on today as they did then.

It doesn't matter who sells the most cars. The focus should be squarely on improving quality and efficiency, on innovation.

Do those things really well -- as Toyota does -- and sales will take care of themselves. Global demand for cars and trucks is rising rapidly, as people in China, India and other emerging economies become more affluent. There are spoils aplenty for well-run auto companies.

Toyota had its best-ever first-quarter sales, but so did GM. The gap between them was about the same as GM's intentional cutback of unprofitable rental-fleet sales in the U.S. market. GM need not hang its head, even -- as appears likely -- Toyota widens its sales lead over the next five or six years. More at Detroit Free Press [Editor's Note: Could not agree more. Instead what does GM do? They have fire sales every year and give away cars at essentially zero margin just to maintain its #1 worldwide status.]

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