Auto Role-Play: Ford's a Hero, Toyota -- or Is It Chrysler? -- Is the Goat. Until Next Week, at Least

Last Updated May 24, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

The auto-writing community has limited seating, I always say.

There's only room in the catbird seat for one company which can do no wrong. Right now, that's Ford (F). In the past it's been Nissan (NSANF.PK), or Toyota (TM). Ford got yet another accolade last week, as Vincentric, a Michigan company that studies the cost of ownership, mostly for fleet customers, said Ford and Honda (HMC) were "best values."

There's also room for only one company in the hot seat. I would argue right now that's about to be Chrysler, despite the ongoing recall problems at Toyota. I said a while back that Toyota had gone from the catbird seat to the hot seat, displacing Chrysler, and that Chrysler should enjoy it while it lasts.

My gut feeling is that the "Toyota recall" news cycle is exceeding the national attention span. There's been so much Toyota "news" that it's all starting to blur, even for us news junkies: a Senate hearing one day, a House hearing the next. It's becoming "dog bites man," or routine in news-speak.

That's bad for the Toyota brand image in the long run, but it's good for Toyota in the near term if it wants to get negative coverage about itself off the front page.

Meanwhile, a recent NYT story suggests the redesigned Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is about to be introduced, is a make-or-break model for Chrysler. The story further states the obvious fact that SUVs are out of favor.

I don't disagree with either point, but Chrysler has already survived no telling how many make-or-break new-product introductions, and it will survive this one, too. The bigger question, which has been set aside for a while in the news hole, is whether truly new and different product from Fiat (FIATY.PK) is arriving soon enough at Chrysler to really change the brand perception.

That's going to occupy the news cycle for a while.

Photo: Chrysler