For all of the recent hubbub about General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F), and to a lesser extent DaimlerChrysler (NYSE:DCX), you'd think that the auto business was fatally flawed. While Toyota's (NYSE:TM) results back up the thesis that times are challenging, profitability in the auto sector is not necessarily impossible -- especially if you're the Godzilla of the group.

It's hard to say that fourth-quarter results for the world's largest automaker (by market capitalization) were any better than OK, but OK is a heckuva lot better than what some other automakers have managed. While revenue climbed 4.2% in the fourth quarter, operating profit fell 23% and net profit fell 17%. Although lower than the year-ago period, Toyota's $2.8 billion quarterly net profit is better than what analysts expect General Motors or Ford to report in either of the next two years.

Looking ahead, Toyota management says that it expects to sell about 6% more vehicles in the next fiscal year and see a slight increase in sales. Profit growth will be more problematic, though, as higher costs from both commodity inputs as well as research and development efforts continue to outstrip efficiency efforts.

Investors in Toyota certainly shouldn't begrudge those R&D dollars. Toyota has been a multi-decade success story for many reasons. Aside from high-quality production and very competitive pricing, the products of R&D have certainly helped.

In addition to unappreciated improvements like better fuel efficiency and safety, Toyota R&D has also led to the development of high-profile cars like the Prius hybrid and the upcoming hybrid SUV lines. Toyota also has a strong effort underway in fuel cell-powered cars; it will almost certainly be among the market leaders if and when that technology reaches meaningful consumer acceptance.

There's certainly a lot to like about Toyota's future. In addition to top-tier technology, management continues to expand its efforts to produce cars on a global basis. This skirts tariffs, reduces exposure to foreign currencies and helps to break down the lines between "domestic" and "foreign" products -- which can only help this Japan-based automaker.

So what about the stock, you say? Well, it's done all right over 10 years or so, even though it looks like it's rolling over in response to the general malaise of the car industry. What's more, the present price-to-earnings ratio of about 10 probably isn't out of line relative to the company's growth prospects and stated goal of paying out better dividends.

Even though I'm a devoted Japan-o-phile, I can't help but think of Toyota stock in the same fashion that I think of vanilla ice cream: I don't hate it, but I can't remember the last time I actually went out of my way to buy it. It may well be among the best auto companies around, but is that really such a great title to hold these days?

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).