07/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Note to GM, Relevance is Good Business

There were two big stories in the automotive industry last week. The first, highly anticipated for months if not years, was the bankruptcy filing of General Motors. The second story, which is not getting nearly as much media attention, is that Toyota Industries announced the launch of the Geneo-Hybrid, the world's first internal combustion, hybrid lift truck.

The Geneo-Hybrid combines a 2.5-liter diesel engine, electric motor, and nickel-metal hybrid battery to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 50%. Toyota sold 193,000 lift trucks in 2008, and this new version will most likely sell a great deal more over the coming years. Toyota launched the Prius, the first mass-production hybrid car, in 1997, and has sold more than 1.7 million worldwide.

Unfortunately, since then General Motors has brought America the Hummer and other large variety vehicles. The Hummer isn't the only reason for the company's perilous condition, but the mindset of the corporate culture in the auto industry is. While other automobile companies struggled to find ways to stay relevant, GM did not. And now that the federal government owns a majority stake in the automaker, it will be an interesting case study to see if the company can make its way out. (It's not like the U.S. has a great track record in running companies or quasi-public/private companies--AMTRAK and our Postal Service come to mind).

This never had to happen, at least not in such a dramatic fashion. It wasn't as if Toyota was working in stealth mode and all of the sudden dropped the Prius on our shores. Toyota's long-term strategy for bringing energy-efficient vehicles to the market is apparently working. Now they've moved into heavy lifting and, most likely, other markets as well. Maybe General Motors can take a page from Toyota's playbook and come back to life with new purpose and relevance. Now that would be good for America.

Jonathan A. Schein is the publisher of and