One year ago, I wrote a column comparing the "Big Six" automakers that trade freely on U.S. exchanges. I focused primarily on their relative cheapness, as reflected in their price-to-earnings ratios. At the time, the article seemed able to stand on its own, but now I'm considering it a beta version of today's column.

One of our chief objectives at The Motley Fool is to constantly generate investing ideas for you. We do that through our stable of fee-based investment newsletters, of course. But we also strive to add value for those of you who are still kicking the Fool's tires, hanging out on the free portion of the website. In your interests, I've scoured the Web for information on these companies' relevant investment metrics, and today I'm presenting the results in table form at the end of this article, along with a few lines of commentary.

As you'll see, if it's a cheap stock you're hankering for, then there's only one thing to do: Buy American. Ford's and GM's eroding market shares and continual profit warnings may (should?) dissuade some investors, but there's always a chance these two will turn things around in time. And as long as they keep the cash flowing, their hefty dividends could pay you nicely while you wait.

On the other hand, GARP (Growth at A Reasonable Price) investors -- if they're willing to pass on current income from their investments -- should perhaps be "turning Japanese." None of the island nation's players pays much of a dividend, I'll grant you. But with market shares that have nowhere to go but up, and relatively attractive P/E ratios, Honda, and especially Nissan, look pretty tempting right now. And, of course, there's no question that Toyota rules the road. In fact, when you consider that Toyota is going all out to double its already sizeable market share within the next few years, that might well be the best horse to place your money on.

Maker Trailing
P/E
Return
on Equity
Yield U.S.
Market Share
DaimlerChrysler
(NYSE:DCX)
12.7 7.2% 4.8% 13.0%
Honda
(NYSE:HMC)
10.2 15.6% 1.1% 8.2%
Toyota
(NYSE:TM)
10.2 14.9% 1.3% 12.2%
Nissan
(NASDAQ:NSANY)
8.5 25.7% 1.2% 5.8%
General Motors
(NYSE:GM)
5.3 10.1% 7.6% 27.3%
Ford
(NYSE:F)
5.2 24.1% 4.3% 18.4%


Fool contributor Rich Smith is not a certified "car guy." Before he bought his truck a couple of years ago, he consulted the experts on The Motley Fool's Buying and Maintaining a Car discussion board. You can find him most days hanging out there -- near, but not talking with, the cool kids -- just listening and nodding a lot.