Besides Hummer, another SUV brand that has been rumored to be on the block is Jeep, considered the one salable product among the holdings of cash-starved Chrysler. The privately held automaker has repeatedly denied that it intends to sell Jeep, but analysts say it ought to have considered that option some time ago. Jeep's top-selling vehicle, the Wrangler, gets an average of 18 mpg.
After years of juicy profits from light trucks, all three U.S. automakers are scrambling to shift production toward cars.
GM said Tuesday that it would close plants in Oshawa, Canada; Moraine, Ohio; Janesville, Wis., and Toluca, Mexico. Several thousand jobs could be affected. Those plants are responsible for pickup trucks and SUVs such as the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Envoy and the medium-duty Chevy Kodiak and are expected to end production no later than the end of 2009.
Sales at Ford fell 15.6% in May, buoyed a bit by a 3% gain in its sales of cars such as the popular Focus. Last month, Ford said that it would cut worker shifts and total production at a handful of plants that make its largest SUVs and pickup trucks, and that it would produce the subcompact Fiesta in a plant outside Mexico City that currently makes the F-series pickup.
Even Chrysler, which of all carmakers has the product mix most heavily slanted toward light trucks, with 71% of its vehicles sold through May falling into that category, is looking to cars. In April, it announced that Nissan would produce a small car for it, while Chrysler would make trucks for Nissan in a Mexico factory.
Still, some worry that Detroit's newfound love of small cars could backfire because of the sheer size and inertia inherent in such large operations.
"Oftentimes what we see from Detroit is an overreaction too late," said Wes Brown, principal of Los Angeles marketing research firm Iceology. "They make seismic shifts to react to what the market is doing today, and by the time they get the product to market, the market has moved on."