DEFINITION of 'Big Three'

A reference to the three largest automobile manufacturers in North America: General Motors, Chrysler and Ford.

All three companies are based in Detroit, so their performance has a significant effect on the city's economy. Employees of the Big Three are represented by the United Auto Workers union. The companies' major competitors include international automakers such as Toyota, Subaru, Honda and Nissan.

The big three are sometimes referred to as the "Detroit Three".

BREAKING DOWN 'Big Three'

The profits (and losses) of the Big Three are thought to be an indicator of the state of the overall U.S. economy. In 2009, Chrysler and GM both closed thousands of dealerships, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and were bailed out by the U.S. Treasury through a loan under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. 

The popularity of the Big Three's cars and trucks has faced opposition from other car makers, especially as American buyers are seeking to purchase more "cross-over" vehicles and SUVs continue to dominate in the auto market. 

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