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How Many Car Models Is Too Many?

For the Big Three automakers to win over Washington lawmakers in their bid for federal aid, they will have to address a key question in the business plans they present Congress with on Tuesday.

Just how serious are they about shrinking their vast lineups of different brands and models to match the current harsh reality of the market?

Between them, General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler sell 112 different car and truck models through 15 brands in the United States.

By contrast, the top three Japanese automakers — Toyota, Honda and Nissan — have roughly half as many choices with 58 models combined sold through seven brands.

A wide range of offerings was historically a source of strength for the American companies when they dominated the vehicle market — a strategy of providing a car for “every purse and purpose” as Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s leader in the 1920s and 1930s, once said.

But the Big Three now sell fewer than half of all new vehicles in this country, with a market share of about 47 percent this year, compared with 62 percent just five years ago.

Supporting all those models and brands with separate marketing budgets, design teams, dealers and management divisions represents an enormous expense, particularly for GM.

Germany Aims to Help Itself by Guiding West’s Ties to Russia

In the heat of the Georgia crisis in August, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany flew to Russia to warn about the consequences of renewed militarism. Two days later she was in Georgia, voicing support for the country’s eventual entry into NATO.

Autumn crept in and passions cooled. The beginning of October found Merkel back in Russia, looking on as the German utility E.ON and the Russian state energy giant Gazprom signed a significant deal in St. Petersburg, giving the German firm a stake in the enormous Yuzhno-Russkoye natural gas field in Siberia.

Merkel’s shifting focus served as a reminder of the pivotal role played by Germany in shaping the West’s relationship with Russia. It is Russia’s largest trading partner, Europe’s single biggest economy and one of America’s closest allies. Moscow’s aggressive posture has not only thrust Russia, a nuclear-armed energy power, back into the political spotlight. It has also dragged Germany there with it.

Just as the United States is struggling to redefine its relationship with a resurgent and at times antagonistic government in Moscow, Germany is scrambling to protect the close commercial, cultural and diplomatic ties with Russia it has forged since the end of the Cold War — and, in some areas, long before.

Kurdish Government Defends Policies

The Kurdish regional government released a pointed rebuttal on Monday to Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki’s recent criticism of its policies, in a sign of growing fault lines between the Kurds and Iraq’s central government.

Al-Maliki gave a speech on Nov. 20 in which he said the Kurds were pursuing several unconstitutional policies, including the development of an oil business independent of Baghdad and the opening of representative offices in foreign countries. His government has also criticized the activities of Kurdish defense forces, known as Peshmerga, outside the region.

Over the past year, relations between the Kurds and the government in Baghdad have worsened, with officials clashing on issues that reflect the region’s growing power and autonomy.