Who will rule the auto world of the future?

By Alex Taylor III, senior editor


FORTUNE -- Like few other industries, auto companies measure their output in number of vehicles built and then report that data publicly.

Besides contributing to a "mine's bigger than yours" mentality, the availability of these production numbers has created a cottage industry in massaging the figures and analyzing the results.

In addition to providing competitive data, forecasts of future production rates give suppliers guidance in planning upcoming demand and suggest where they should go to look for new customers.

But the numbers don't always tell the same story. Take a look at a pair of forecasts by two notable experts.

One is from former Merrill Lynch analyst John Casesa, who now advises governments, corporations, and investors about the direction of the auto business

Casesa extrapolated production trends from 2005 to 2009 to see what the auto world looks like in 2018 and discovered a radically changed global landscape.

Toyota, which only displaced GM as the world's number one automaker in 2008, drops from the top spot all the way down to number three.

Casesa sees Volkswagen passing Toyota (TM) to become the new number one, followed by Hyundai/Kia in second place. Both companies are expanding quickly in North America and doing well in developing markets.

Casesa's calculations contain some other big surprises: He sees General Motors slipping from second to tenth in the world, and Ford (F, Fortune 500) falling from fourth to eighth.

That may be a little harsh. GM's market share in North America with its four remaining brands seems to have stabilized, while Ford has been gaining share.

The rest of Casesa's top ten has Renault Nissan in fourth, Honda (HMC) in fifth, Fiat-Chrysler in sixth, and France's Peugeot -- a remarkable survivor given its concentration in its home country and its shunning of mergers -- in seventh.

Another surprise makes the list at number nine: China. The Chinese government is likely to force the merger of several smaller companies to create one global competitor.

The conventional wisdom

But there is more than one way to divine the future. IHS Global Insight, which produces economic and market forecasts, uses a more data-intensive method.

It makes a bottom-up forecast by looking at each company's production plans, factoring in market strength and economic growth, and making some educated guesses.

This more incremental approach produces a ranking of top global players relatively unchanged from today.

Toyota remains number one, GM is the runner-up, and VW comes in third.

Rounding out the top six: Renault/Nissan in fourth, Ford in fifth, and Hyundai/Kia in sixth.

The problem with all forecasts is that they can't anticipate discontinuous events. Mercedes-Benz, for instance, would have shot up the list after the DaimlerChrysler merger in 1999, and then dropped down again after the merger was dissolved.

Some analysts are predicting now that VW's ambitions for global supremacy may be brought low by powerful unions in its headquarters town of Wolfsburg who don't want to see production moved overseas.

The biggest question mark today, aside from the Chinese, is how far Hyundai/Kia's momentum will carry it. Twenty years ago, it was on nobody's radar screen. Today it looks unstoppable. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Find Your Next Car
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.15 0.00 0.00%
Facebook Inc 58.94 0.00 0.00%
General Electric Co 26.56 0.00 0.00%
Cisco Systems Inc 23.19 -0.02 -0.09%
Micron Technology In... 23.91 0.00 0.00%
Data as of Apr 17
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,408.54 -16.31 -0.10%
Nasdaq 4,095.52 9.29 0.23%
S&P 500 1,864.85 2.54 0.14%
Treasuries 2.72 0.08 3.19%
Data as of 5:27am ET
Sponsors

Sections

Spencer has been a supporting member of the "Good Morning America" cast for the past three years. More

Obamacare sign ups hit 8 million, though final enrollment remains to be seen. More

Office for iPad move is a symbolic victory for Nadella's Microsoft, but the company is still weighed down by many of the same old issues. More

Schwinn, Trek and Cannondale are all iconic American bicycle brands. But none of them are made in the United States. More

As Detroit moves closer to reaching a bankruptcy deal, retired civilian workers are poised to be left worse off than firemen and police officers. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.