As petroleum companies like Exxon Mobil continue to report record earnings, the domestic automobile industry has been hit hard financially in recent months. Blame that on relying too much and for too long on more profitable, less efficient, larger vehicles. But the changing market has gotten the attention of automakers, and work is quickly under way on the next generation of vehicles.

U.S.A. Today reported last week that General Motors has forged a partnership with more than 30 utilities nationwide in advance of its plans to sell a rechargeable electric car in 2010. Its cost wonít be cheap - $30,000, at least - but the agreements will give owners ample opportunities to recharge the vehicle when venturing some distance from home. Right now, its range on battery power alone is about 40 miles, although a small traditional engine would extend that.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Ford is planning to concentrate on smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles in the future, and will do that by building such vehicles at manufacturing plants that have been producing trucks.

Chrysler announced an agreement last spring that will have Nissan building a new small car based on a Chrysler concept that should be available in 2010. In exchange, Chrysler will build a Titan replacement in its Mexico assembly plant that will go into production in 2011. Chrysler has also been working for some time with Chinese automaker Chery on a global small car.

Itís the type of collective business response that domestic automakers needed to make in response to higher gasoline prices. A few decades ago, they were behind the curve on quality as compared to their foreign competitors. By all measures, that gap has been closed. Now, domestic automakers still have some catching up to do, but these are steps they need to take to regain some of the market share lost in recent years.

Brownwood Bulletin