I’m going to change course a bit this week as I’ve received several letters along the way about the car industry in general and how many cars are sold in North America. A recent letter from an antique car buff also wanted to know how well Chrysler is doing now that it is combined with Fiat.

So this week, and this week only, we move to the modern car market instead of the collectible car hobby.

I am going to list for my readers the total auto and truck sales for North America for the month of May 2017. You’ll perhaps find some surprises high and low as to what one would expect from a car manufacturer. I’ll end with some thoughts on the current car industry and profitability.

I’ll start with the “Big Three,” namely Ford, GM and Chrysler. In going over the numbers (readily available on the computer), one thing really sticks out … YES, this is the “Big Three” for sure. In May 2017 Ford sold 241,126 units, General Motors 237,364 and Fiat/Chrysler 193,040 cars and trucks, fleet sales included. The Fiat cars didn’t put much of a dent in the Chrysler numbers, as less than 2,000 Fiat 500s were sold in North America. So, on the heels of very strong (Dodge) RAM truck and Jeep sales, Chrysler is doing quite well sales wise.

Now, over to the “Big Three” in Japan.

For May, Toyota leads the group with 218,248 vehicles sold, next comes Honda at 148,414 and third is Nissan at 137,471. Remember these figures include pickup truck sales, too. Subaru came in fourth at 56,135, while Mazda capped the fifth place with 26,047 vehicles sold. Mitsubishi rounded out the Japanese manufacturers with 9,429 units delivered.

Over Germany way, there are some surprises. Although there is little doubt that Germany builds great cars, the sales are perhaps not as high as one would think. Mercedes-Benz led the way in May with 30,290 deliveries, with Volkswagen a close second at 30,014. BMW/Mini Cooper came in third at 29,878 but the Mini accounted for just 4,060 of the total. Audi rounded out the German contingency with 19,197 units sold.

South Korea sales are good, as Hyundai/Genesis accounted for 60,011 May sales in North America while corporate partner Kia also came in at a strong 58,507 units. From Great Britain via Tata Motors of India comes Jaguar and Land Rover, with a combined sales total of 8,106 for May of 2017. Finally, the Sweden/Belgium built Volvo sold 6,202 vehicles that same time period.

What many readers might be thinking about now is how can a car company run into so much financial trouble when it sells close to or more than 200,000 cars and trucks a month? We all recall the many financial/bankruptcy woes of General Motors back in the 2008 to 2009 period, Chrysler many times during its history and even Ford, the latter which did not file bankruptcy or take any government bailout money when the car recession hit so hard not long ago.

But when it comes to making money, there is much to take into consideration concerning profits. When sales slow, so do profits. Production costs, employee salaries, management salaries, retirement/pension demands, skyrocketing health costs, and union obligations all play into today’s formula for success … or failure. When you look at today’s “Big Three” stock prices, Fiat Chrysler is currently fetching $10.98 a share with earnings of $1.40 a share.

General Motors is at $34.45 showing nice earnings at $6.47 per share. However, this “new” GM stock replaces the one that went away during the 2009 bankruptcy which found bond holders and stock holders losing billions. GM reorganized and thus the strong stock performance under new post-bankruptcy realignment.

Ford, meanwhile, is steady and showing profits of $0.94 a share with a stock price of $11.35. Considering Ford decided to go its own way during the car bailout, it may one day return to nice profitability as its continues its plight to show profits on billions of income. (Ford’s F-Series pickups are still some of the best selling vehicles in the world and rightly so.)

I am in no way recommending any of these car stocks nor do I have any professional training to do so. These are reminders that no matter how many cars and trucks are sold in America today, there’s no guarantee that the company doing so can make a profit. For comparison, Toyota is at $109.37 a share, Nissan at $19.80 and Honda at $28.69 with all three showing positive profit results. So overall right now, things are good.

In ending, I fear that because a car or truck ALWAYS depreciates to near nothing after being used heavily for 8 to 10 years, we could find ourselves on the cusp of another recession, albeit this time a “car financing” recession instead of the home mortgage recession of 2009.

Today’s low interest 7-year, 84-month car/truck financing makes it easy to buy a $45,000 pickup or sporty sedan. Four years down the road, buyers could experience remorse as the reality of automobile depreciation sinks in versus payment demands and vehicle value. It’s called “being underwater” when you owe more than a vehicle is worth, a common occurrence when you roll over prior vehicle debt into a new loan.

One thing is for sure. America loves to buy new cars and trucks. We’ve just got to be aware of the contract we are signing prior to bringing home that new vehicle.

-- Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications. He welcomes reader questions at greg@gregzyla.com.