According to an analyst, pension obligations for Ford at the end of 2011 totaled $74 billion, with $15.4 billion of that still being owed. To reduce that amount, Ford will be offering 98,000 current and former white-collar employees a lump-sum pension buyout. General Motors, whose $134 billion pension obligation was underfunded by $25.4 billion at the end of last year, will be doing the same with 42,000 of its salaried employees and its switching others to 401(k) plans. When Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne was asked by reporters if The Pentastar had similar plans, he answered "There's no need for us to do it."

In fact, Marchionne considers the idea inconsequential enough that the only elaboration he made was to say "Not at all." The smallest of The Detroit Three has the smallest obligation at $32 billion, and the smallest underfunded amount, $6.5 billion. That could be seen as another endorsement of Chrysler's recent performance, which has been the unexpected profit engine in the Fiat group.