How Ford Restructured Without Federal Help

You're forgiven if you think the Chrysler Bailout is a hot new car that competes with another model called the GM Rescue. Then there is the Ford Forgo, brought to us by the only Detroit auto maker to forgo government assistance, at least so far.

That's good for the taxpayers and for Ford, right? Well, maybe not. While General Motors and Chrysler will emerge from the government restructuring wringer with significantly reduced debt, Ford will still likely be obliged to repay its lenders. This could put Ford at a competitive disadvantage -- an unfortunate irony for the one Detroit car company that has gotten the decisions mostly right in the last few years.

Ford also might emerge from the current crisis as the largest American auto maker for the first time in more than 80 years. GM had 18.6% of the market in the first quarter of this year to Ford's 14.7%. But GM's lead could be wiped out when the company sheds four or five brands to satisfy President Barack Obama's automotive task force.

True, "Largest American Car Company" might by a pyrrhic title these days. Ford just posted a $1.4 billion loss for the first quarter of 2009, after cumulative losses of $30 billion for the prior three years. During those same three years, however, Ford revamped its product offerings to the point where it soon will have a coherent lineup for the first time in a decade. That's a big turnabout for a company whose auto lineup was so unappealing a few years ago that it almost abandoned cars entirely to focus on SUVs and trucks.

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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