It's crunch time in the auto industry, there's no doubt about that. The Detroit Free Press' Mark Phelan paints the picture in the simplest -- yet starkest -- terms possible when he lays out the seven models that can make or break the profits of the major automakers.

Chevrolet Silverado: Chevy's best-selling pick-up accounts for a HUGE amount of sales and market share for General Motors, and despite its class-leading fuel economy, gas prices and other factors are shifting buyers away from full-size pick-ups.

Toyota Tundra: This full-size pickup supplies jobs to thousands of people in Indiana and Texas, true, but its real significance is as a market share cannibal to the Dodge Ram, Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado. The difference is that Toyota doesn't need the Tundra to make it, but the Big 3 need their trucks to do well in order to stabilize.

Ford Edge: It's one of just a few new Ford vehicles hitting the market this year, while other automakers like Toyota and Chrysler seem to have one vehicle after another hitting the streets and infiltrating consumers' consciousnesses. More importantly, the Edge's job is to pick up those customers leaving their Explorers and other larger trucks behind.

Honda Accord: With the new Camry out, it's easy to see that Honda must step it up with the Accord to keep its status as the better-designed, better-performing alternative to the Toyota Camry. The Koreans may not be hot on Honda's heels yet in terms of sales, but with the bold(er) design of the Camry and the less expensive Hyundai and Kia models to choose from, Honda has a tall order to fill with next year's Accord.

Nissan Altima: Nissan might have experienced a comeback thanks to risky design and impressive performance. The Altima? Not so much, at least as of late. Nissan's got a lot on its plate if it wants to put itself back on the import sedan map.

Chrysler Town and Country/Dodge Caravan: It survived the SUV craze, but can it survive crossovers? And more importantly, can it survive the import minivan craze? The Chrysler Town & Country is a pillar of strength for Chrysler, but it will be hard-pressed to stay there.

Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook: They're GM's answer to the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX330, and critics say they have the styling and fuel economy to be true contenders. Considering the importance of the segment, GM seems to be putting its best foot forward.

[Source: Detroit Free Press]

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