Earlier this year it was widely reported that Toyota is soon likely to overtake General Motors as the world's largest car manufacturer.

Toyota, which produced about 8.1 million vehicles in 2005, already has Ford in its rearview mirror, and while GM is projected to shed around 30,000 jobs by the end of 2008, Toyota has expansion plans. Meanwhile, although two of the three leading hybrid-fuel cars sold in the United States are Honda's Civic and Insight, it is Toyota's hybrid, the Prius, that has come to symbolize efficiency and fuel economy there; and a hybrid Camry will hit the U.S. market this year.

If the 20th century was, as it's often said, "the American century," then the most potent consumer symbol of that hegemony was the family car. When I was a kid in the 1950s, advertisers urged us to "See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet." Who would have thought back then that a half-century later you'd be "seeing North Dakota in your Toyota"?