Predictions 2011: Phil LeBeau On Auto Industry

1. Ford has its most profitable year ever.

This really isn't much of a stretch given Ford is currently having one of its best years ever. But in 2011, as North American sales pick up and Ford enjoys the benefits of a full year of sales from the Fiesta and Explorer, along with roll out of the re-designed Focus, Ford will crank up the profits. The roll Ford is enjoying right now is reminiscent of when Toyota was in the sweet spot a few years back. It doesn't mean Ford is perfect right now, far from it. It does mean CEO Alan Mulally's vision of one Ford has the company focused and performing at a very high level.

2. The electric car race will be a quiet one.

Literally and figuratively, we will not hear a whole lot about the mass market electric cars starting to hit showrooms. The Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF will be out by year end and sales will pick up in 2011. Will these cars become red-hot sellers like the Toyota Prius a few years ago? Only if gas prices skyrocket, and I don't expect that to happen in the year. Sure, my guess on gas prices is as good as anyone else's. The point is, electric cars, for all the hype, will be niche vehicles in 2011 generating for less press than in 2010.

3. Chrysler will re-assert itself.

2011 is the year we find out if CEO Sergio Marchionne's strategy for Chrysler has traction with buyers. I think it will work. Look, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram have been largely forgettable the last 4 years. The models were tired looking and generated very little excitement. But with a slew of new models hitting showrooms, Chrysler will finally get the kind of traction it's been lacking. The new models are a big step towards giving Chrysler, Dodge and Ram distinctive, upgraded looks. Will any of the models be breakout hits? I don't think so. But they don't need to be. Chrysler needs steady improvement, and that's what it will show in 2011.

So how much stock should you put in my predictions? Last year, I was dead on predicting a break out year for Ford and that GM [GM 20.31 -0.43 (-2.07%) ] would steadily improve before an IPO in the fourth quarter. On the other hand, I sold Chrysler short.