Comparative studies of the newly industrialized countries of East Asia and Latin America have sought to explain the better industrial performance of the former group of countries by looking at macro indicators and policy. This paper throws new light on these issues by focusing on a specific industry, automobiles. It concludes that, within this industry, the sharp dichotomy between the two regions is much less clear-cut than is often thought but that, nevertheless, the 'developmental statist' approach is still useful in understanding industrial performance. (c) 1995 Academic Press Ltd. Copyright 1995 by Oxford University Press.