Now, maybe the Big Three can't do it with every single model, but here's a strategy to keep costs low, strengthen brand identity, and build it all with United Auto Workers labor in the good ol' U.S.A.

The key is to amortize cars over longer periods of time. Take the Ford Mustang. It's built on the Fox platform that was introduced in 1978, and began development around 1974. The chassis and powertrain, though improved, are basically the same. But does the customer know the difference? Nope. With some occasional refreshenings the Mustang is still going strong.

Take a look at the Jeep Cherokee. It was in production for more than 20 years, with no sheetmetal change. None. Yet, the only way Chrysler could get customers to stop buying it was to stop building it. It was in production for so long that it's boxy, square styling even came back in vogue. Get this: It's the second-most researched used vehicle on-line by young buyers. Second only to the Mustang, by the way.

And you don't need icon cars to make this strategy work. Look at the Chevrolet Cavalier. Hasn't changed in a decade, yet it's still GM's best selling car by far. I know, I know, they're giving them away. And there is plenty I don't like about the way the Cavalier drives. But the styling has stood the test of time. It doesn't look dated.

The basic tooling on these three vehicles was paid for a long, long time ago. They were kept in production only because their respective manufacturers couldn't justify the expense for a complete change. But they should learn from this lesson, and develop a strategy to amortize certain models over several decades. Talk about cost reduction.

How do you keep them fresh? Accessorize! Change the look of the headlamps with multi-faceted, jewel-like reflectors. Use the latest LED designs for the taillamps. Come up with a flashy new set of wheels. Offer new colors and fabrics. Issue special editions and performance models.

And keep making constant improvements in quality.

Then watch the brand identity become as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Because when a car has been around that long, people know what it is. And you can save another small fortune by not having to launch a new nameplate.

John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit.