If you thought Ford's (NYSE: F) biggest worry in auto sales was how to beat Toyota (NYSE: TM) … well, maybe it was, once upon a time. But this week, Ford showed us that the bigger blob on its threat radar is actually General Motors (NYSE: GM).

Yesterday, Ford announced plans to create a new mini-minivan called the C-Max hybrid. This is big news, and I'll tell you why: A couple of years back, when the hybrid-car revolution was just getting started, Ford announced that it would build a hybrid Escape and all-electric Focus in response to the runaway success of Toyota's Prius. Of course, that was before the Prius literally began running away from its own drivers.

Fast-forward one unintended acceleration debacle, and one monster earthquake-cum-tsunami, and Toyota's on the ropes. As far as the rest of the competition goes, Tesla's (Nasdaq: TSLA) Model S is still missing in action, and the only thing automaker Th!nk has managed to do with its City is drive Ener1 (NYSE: HEV) to the brink of bankruptcy.

In contrast, GM has surged to the fore on the strength of its electric Volt. General Electric (NYSE: GE) loves the car so much that it's buying 12,000. Out in California, the Los Angeles Times tells us that Chevy dealers are taking advantage of strong demand to raise prices on the cars -- as much as $20,000 above MSRP!  

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Headlines like that one couldn't fail to attract Ford's notice, and they didn't. You can see this clearly in the C-Max, which looks to have been designed from the ground up to beat GM. The C-Max seats five passengers, versus Volt's four. It's designed to travel primarily on battery power, like the Volt, but its gasoline backup will give it a combined range of 500 miles, versus Volt's 379. Best of all, by borrowing parts from related platforms, Ford promises to sell the C-Max for "considerably less" than the Volt's $41,000 sticker price.

Sounds to me like Ford has a winner on its hands, folks. Prius blazed the trail, GM opened the road, and now Ford's hoping to use it to drive away with all the profits.

Is Rich right, or can GM up the ante? Can Toyota pull a U-turn and get back in the race? Add all three companies to your Fool Watchlist, and find out.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any company named above, but The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford, and Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of General Motors and Ford.

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