Chrysler

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Chrysler's new car sales have been improving faster than almost any other car company in the U.S. in recent months.

But the company has also been relying on subprime borrowers more than almost any other car company.

That's according to Edmunds.com.

People with good credit can usually find a car loan with a four percent interest rate.

But a growing number of Chrysler's customers have poor credit - and their loans have 10 percent interest rates.

Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell says it's definitely boosting Chrysler's sales, but there are risks.

"I think subprime can tarnish your image in a way," she says.  "If you have a high percentage of subprime borrowers, people start to catch on or think that perhaps your brand isn't as prestigious as you would want to think it is."

Even though subprime car loans are riskier, there is still a relatively low rate of default.

People are much more likely to default on a subprime house loan than a subprime car loan. 

There’s an old Russian saying that, even, if you covered the world with asphalt, eventually a crack would form.

And in that crack, grass would grow. I was reminded of that yesterday by an Italian businessman my age, a man who is betting on green shoots coming through a town caked with many layers of asphalt. His name is Sergio Marchionne, and he is the CEO of a company called Fiat. Three years ago, he did something many at the time thought stupid. He took over a dying bankrupt company.

Chrysler says its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit will forgo the traditional two-week shutdown this summer.

The unusual move will help the company keep up with strong demand for the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango. 

Sales of the new Durango are up 33% from last year, and sales of the new Grand Cherokee are up 44%.  

The factory's employees are already working nine hour shifts plus two Saturdays a month, but Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson thinks they don't mind.

"Considering where we have been over the last couple of years, I think there is a very positive feeling that these vehicles are being so well received," says Tinson.   "And they (workers) are reaping the benefits by being able to work some overtime."

Chrysler had been planning to hire 1,100 new workers at the plant next January but will move that ahead to this November.

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Chrysler will start renting office space in a downtown Detroit skyscraper later this year.

Chrysler’s CEO and other business leaders have already re-christened the building “Chrysler House.”

Chrysler will move only about 70 employees into the former Dime building in the heart of downtown Detroit. But CEO Sergio Marchionne says it reflects Chrysler’s commitment to “put down roots” in the city and the region.

Marchionne says the resurgent Chrysler sees its own fortunes tied to Detroit’s.

“The people of Detroit and this region have contributed to making our country great again with their talent, their commitment, and their sweat," Marchionne said. "Detroit is the place that we feel at home. That’s why we’re proud to say that from now on, this building is going to be known as Chrysler House.”

Marchionne also noted Chrysler’s plans to “substantially expand” its industrial presence in the city. The automaker plans to re-open one Detroit assembly plant, and up production at two others by next year.

The move is also another win for the city’s central business district, which has announced some major new tenants in the past few months.

Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert has been one of the key figures pushing to revitalize downtown with his Detroit 2.0 initiative.

“Together we are creating an urban core in downtown Detroit, that will be a spark of the entire region, that will have jobs, growth, and excitement,” Gilbert said.

Marchionne says Chrysler employees will move in once the space is refurbished, likely sometime this summer.

The Detroit Free Press also reports that Chrysler has now committed $3.3 million to help build a light rail project in downtown Detroit. The M-1 rail project will jumpstart with funds from private backers. It's still awaiting approval from city, state, and federal officials.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The Dart will help make Chrysler a full-line auto company once again. It's a compact car, or so-called "C-segment," car.

It's the first vehicle to combine a U.S. design with a Fiat chassis or platform.  The last small car Chrysler made was the Dodge Caliber and that was not very successful.

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks the Dart will do much better.

"We are looking forward to a successful launch of a C-segment sedan, which is a piece of the market that we've been absent from for a long period of time, so we're expecting great volumes in terms of the Dart for the remainder of the year," said Marchionne.

A version of the Dart that gets 41 miles per gallon is expected later this year.

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DETROIT (AP) - U.S. safety regulators have expanded an investigation into Jeep Wrangler fires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking Chrysler for information about Wranglers from 2007 through 2012.

That is an expansion of a probe that began March 28, and focused on vehicles from the 2010 model year.

Chrysler makes Jeeps. It sold more than 532,000 Wranglers from 2007 through March.

The government says 23 Wrangler owners have complained about fires. Complaints say four people were hurt and two houses were damaged. Three of the injuries were minor burns.

Chrysler had no immediate comment on the expanded probe Wednesday. It has said the Wrangler meets or exceeds all safety standards and has an excellent safety record.

An investigation can lead to a recall.

Jeep has signed a three-year, $45 million marketing deal with an Italian professional football club. 

The agreement could help the brand make inroads in Europe, where SUVs are uncommon.

The Jeep logo will soon appear on the backs of the jerseys worn by the Italian soccer team Juventus.  The team will also get Jeeps for club use. 

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon says it’s an aggressive marketing ploy that will almost certainly boost Jeep’s brand awareness in Europe.

Update 12:35 p.m.

Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all posted higher auto sales in February.

Ford sales were up by 14% compared with February 2011.   Chrysler sales soared by 40%.  GM posted a slight 1% increase.

Erich Merkel is an analyst with Ford Motor Company.  He says rising gasoline prices influenced which vehicles sold last month.

“What we saw was really strong momentum into more fuel efficient vehicles and toward smaller vehicles," says Merkel.

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As Michigan Radio's Zoe Clark pointed out this morning, the stakes have been raised for Michigan's upcoming Republican presidential primary now that Rick Santorum pulled off a three state sweep last night.

The Republican candidates will be campaigning hard to win the state's 16 electoral votes.

For Mitt Romney, he might again face questions about his stance on GM and Chrysler's bailout.

In November of 2008, he wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times with the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" in which he argues the automakers should go through a managed bankruptcy.

Now, comedians from Chicago's Second City club have created a spoof of the Clint Eastwood Chrysler ad taking a shot at Romney at the end. In it, their version of Eastwood says:

"I've seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And sometimes it's best to lie down and watch from the couch. You can't win 'em all, right?"

Here's the Second City spoof:

Romney has maintained that the Obama Administration eventually adopted his call for a managed bankruptcy. The Washington Post took closer look at Romney's stance on the auto bailouts. They concluded:

Romney is correct when he says he has been consistent on the question of bailouts for the auto industry, but he pushes the envelope when he suggests the Obama administration, after wasting billions, ultimately reached the same conclusion. By most accounts, Romney’s approach would not have been viable in the depths of the economic crisis.

So what do you think. Will Romney's stance on the auto bailouts help him, or hurt him in Michigan's Republican primary?

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Last week, we reported an Associated Press estimate that predicted a $1,500 profit-sharing bonus for Chryslers hourly employees based on the automaker's earnings figures contractual obligations with workers.

Now an email from Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne to UAW members posted by the Detroit News suggests the bonuses will go out early.

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Candidates on both sides of the political fence, especially during this presidential election cycle,  have been trying to make hay out of the U.S. government bailouts of Chrysler and GM.  

At a speech to the National Automobile Dealers Association convention yesterday, former President George W. Bush said the reality of the severe economic downturn led him to his decision to begin the bailouts of GM and Chrysler.

From Bloomberg News:

“I didn’t want there to be 21 percent unemployment,” Bush said in a speech yesterday to cap the annual National Automobile Dealers Association convention, attended by more than 20,000 people. “I didn’t want to gamble. I didn’t want history to look back and say, ‘Bush could have done something but chose not to do it.’ And so I said, ‘no depression.’” 

Bloomberg reports the Bush administration loaned GM and Chrysler $17.4 billion "before Barack Obama’s administration expanded the rescue of the companies to $62 billion."

The Detroit Free Press reports that Bush said he believed GM and Chrysler were mismanaged and should pay for their own problems...

"But sometimes circumstances get in the way of philosophy," Bush said. "I would make the same decision again."

Chrysler repaid its loans last year, and GM has repaid around $23 billion, but the U.S. Government still holds around a quarter of GM stock.

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Last night during the Super Bowl, Chrysler ran a follow-up to its much buzzed-about commercial from last year’s big game.

The new commercial, dubbed “It’s Halftime in America” ran, appropriately enough, during halftime.

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DETROIT (AP) - Factory workers at Chrysler are getting $1,500 profit-sharing checks next month, a sign the automaker's turnaround is succeeding.

About 26,000 union-represented workers in the U.S. should get the payments, according to Chrysler's contract with the United Auto Workers union. The profit-sharing figure is based on an Associated Press analysis of company earnings, and the labor contract formula for profit-sharing.

Chrysler would not say how much the workers will get. But the formula in its new four-year contract with the UAW shows that the checks will be about $1,500. The checks are based on Chrysler's $2 billion operating profit for 2011, reported on Wednesday.

Chrysler reported full-year net income of $183 million, its first since 1997.

Chrysler is on the mend.  

The Detroit automaker made money last year for the first time since 2005.

The profit -- $183 million -- was modest.  But it would have been much larger, were it not for the company's decision to pay off its federal loans years early.  The payoff resulted in a $500 million charge.

Chrysler also reported strong sales for January of this year, up 44 percent from the same month last year, driven largely by demand for the company’s passenger cars.  

The company expects 2012 to be up to eight times more profitable than 2011.

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Michigan Radio's Laura Weber has been looking into car theft in the state and she has some good news unless you happen to be the owner of a 10-to-15-year-old truck.

That's because, Weber says, according to a recent report from Michigan's Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, the number of car thefts in the state fell roughly nine percent between 2009 and 2010. But the top ten most-stolen vehicle's in Michigan in 2010 were all older model pickup trucks.

To add some context to these findings Weber spoke with Dan Vartanian from the prevention authority:

He said theft-prevention technology is becoming standard on newer vehicles, which helps bring down the number of break-ins, but he said auto-thieves are shifting tactics to steal cars.

“We’re finding car-jackings are becoming more popular, which is a more dangerous form of theft than a would-be thief coming by and picking up your car in the driveway or on the street," said Vartanian. "So we’re concerned about that, obviously, and we’re making efforts to curb that as well.”

Regarding pickups specifically, Vartanian told Weber:

“Well, they’re not always all pickup trucks. But for the last several years they predominant type of vehicle has been the pickup truck. Reason? Very simply, if you were to ask an auto thief what vehicle is the easiest vehicle to steal on the road, they would say various Chrysler products made up of pickup trucks. The parts are interchangeable with other vehicles, they’re easy to steal...Passenger vehicles become more and more sophisticated with anti-theft locking devices, with GPS devices and so-on that are installed in passenger vehicles. Older trucks lack this type of technology." 

Bellow is a list of the top ten most-stolen models in Michigan according to ATPA, which also found that the most popular color for stolen vehicles in 2010 was black.

  1. 2000 Dodge Ram Pickup
  2. 1999 Dodge Ram Pickup
  3. 2002 Dodge Ram Pickup
  4. 1998 Ford Pickup
  5. 1997 Dodge Ram Pickup
  6. 1998 Dodge Ram Pickup
  7. 2003 Dodge Ram Pickup
  8. 1996 Chevrolet Pickup
  9. 1999 Ford Pickup
  10. 1997 Chevrolet Pickup

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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President Barack Obama is expected to visit the Washington Auto Show on Tuesday.

Obama sometimes calls his decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler a tough choice that saved jobs in an important industry.

The auto show will give him another forum to talk about GM and Chrysler, along with the administration's attention to manufacturers and efforts to boost fuel efficiency standards.

The president's advisers view the auto bailout as a potential point of contrast with Republican Mitt Romney, who opposed Obama's decision to pour billions of dollars into the companies.

During his State of the Union address last week, Obama said the auto industry has hired tens of thousands of workers, and he predicted the Detroit turnaround could take root elsewhere.

DETROIT (AP) - Federal safety regulators have stepped up their investigation into Jeep Liberty air bags after 50 people reported they were hurt when the air bags inflated without a crash happening.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started investigating Liberty SUVs from the 2002 and 2003 model years in September. It was upgraded to a full engineering analysis last week.

Documents on the agency website say Chrysler and regulators have gotten 87 complaints of air bags going off by surprise. Nearly 387,000 vehicles are under investigation.

Drivers reported burns, cuts and bruises.

Safety regulators say the air bag computer may fail due to an electrical voltage spike.

The company says no incidents have happened in vehicles made after March 19, 2003. But regulators say Chrysler can't explain that.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Fiat first implemented what it calls The World Class Manufacturing system in Italy. 

Workers are trained to problem-solve to make their work station and factory more productive and efficient.  Ferreting out inefficiencies becomes everyone's focus, not just the managers.

Now Chrysler is using the system.

Workers will be trained at a high-tech lab in Warren - the World Class Manufacturing Academy - that includes practice engine and door assembly lines, movement sensors and problem-solving exercises. 

On Monday, Chrysler unveiled its 2013 Dodge Dart at the Detroit Auto Show.

Sarah Cwiek reports:

Reid Bigland, President of the Dodge brand says the Dart represents a true blend of Fiat and Chrysler’s traditional strengths. “Quite simply, it is groundbreaking. It has a world-class architecture, the DNA of an Alpha-Romeo, with the unmistakable presence of a Dodge,” said Bigland. He says the Dart will make its debut in showrooms this spring with a price tag of just under $16,000.

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Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is striking an upbeat note about the US auto industry—and Detroit—at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.

Detroit’s smallest automaker posted the biggest gains in 2011, with sales soaring 26 percent.

In fact, Chrysler is now doing better than Fiat, the Italian automaker that helped rescue Chrysler from the brink of collapse in 2009.

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

Detroit automakers are introducing cars at this year’s Detroit Auto Show that could help them make gains against foreign-based competitors. 

Ford Motor Company is unveiling its new Fusion, hoping to topple the traditional midsize sedan leaders, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.  

The Fusion will also come in hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, with the plug-in getting the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon.  

Ford CEO Alan Mulally says the company sold a record number of Fusions in 2011 -

"It had its best sales year ever," Mulally told reporters after revealing the Fusion at Joe Louis Arena.  "So the new Fusion is going to build on that success and be very, very popular with consumers."

But Ford Executive Chairman, Bill Ford, Jr., says the company is not going to pursue an increase in market share for the coveted midsize sedan segment just for the sake of market share.

"We are not going to play that volume game," he says.  "If it happens organically, great, but we don’t have some magic number on the wall that we’re all pushing toward."

Meanwhile, Cadillac on Sunday introduced a new small luxury vehicle, the ATS, to compete against BMW and Mercedes Benz.   GM North American President Mark Reuss says the car is a "true driver's car," and can compete head to head with the Mercedes Benz C class and the BMW 3 series.

BMW North America head Ludwig Willisch says a new competitor is always a concern, but he's confident that upgrades to the new 3-series will enable the company to keep its leadership position.

For its part, Chrysler introduced a new small car called the Dodge Dart.  The car will compete against small cars made both by its Detroit rivals and foreign-based companies including Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.

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Chrysler has announced that it will add 1,250 more jobs in the city of Detroit. The company says it is "embracing its Detroit heritage and weaving it into the fiber of its future plans."

More from a company press release:

Chrysler Group LLC is strengthening its ties with the City of Detroit by adding a third crew and 1,100 new jobs at its Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit (JNAP), expanding the Jeep Grand Cherokee lineup to include a diesel version for North America in the city and reaffirming plans to add 150 jobs by reopening its Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, also located in the Motor City for production of the ultimate American sports car – the SRT Viper.

“Our future, like the history of our brands, is interwoven with the City of Detroit,” said Chrysler Group Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne. “Detroit long has been home to renowned innovators and craftsmen. So it is in the Motor City, home of our industrial heritage and a resilient people, that we are entrusting the manufacture not only of the ultimate American sports car, the SRT Viper, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee – the most awarded SUV ever – but also a diesel version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee for North American markets.

Chrysler

Fiat's ownership stake in Chrysler goes up 5 percent now that the company is building a car that gets 40 mpg in the U.S.

The added stake was part of the agreement with the U.S. government when it bailed out the auto company in the 2009 bankruptcy restructuring.

The Associated Press has more:

The U.S. government...gave Fiat a 20 percent stake in Chrysler in July of 2009 in exchange for Fiat's management expertise and use of its technology. Fiat gradually raised its ownership by meeting performance goals and buying the government's stake in Chrysler.

Chrysler said early Thursday that a pre-production version of the new Dodge Dart compact got 40 mpg in testing by the Environmental Protection Agency in late December. Full testing for the mileage sticker that will go on the Dart's window has not been finished. The window sticker testing is done under different standards and could be lower than 40 mpg.

The AP reports that the added 5 percent comes from a UAW trust fund that pays for retiree health care. After giving up the five percent, that fund still owns 41.5 percent of Chrysler.

Automobile Magazine has more on the Dart, which will be built Belvidere, Illinois:

Engine choices will comprise two “Tigershark” inline-fours displacing 2.0 and 2.4 liters, as well as a turbocharged 1.4-liter MultiAir inline-four. Chrysler has also said there will be a choice of three transmissions for the compact Dart sedan. The Dart is based on a lengthened and widened version of the platform that underpins Europe’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback.

The Dart will be revealed at the North American International Auto Show starting next week. We'll have more then.

A 2011 Chrysler Town & Country rolls off the final inspection line at Chrysler Group LLC’s Windsor Assembly Plant.
Chrysler

Grace Macaluso of the Windsor Star reports that an "inventory adjustment" is to blame for a shutdown at the Chrysler Windsor Assembly Plant.

Close to 5,000 workers at the plant build vehicles such as the Dodge Grand Caravan, the Chrysler Town & Country, the Ram Cargo Van, the Lancia Grand Voyager, and some versions of the Volkswagen Routan.

More from the Windsor Star:

"Inventory adjustment" is being blamed for a weeklong shutdown starting Monday at Chrysler’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

“It’s very concerning,” said Laporte, president of CAW Local 444, which represents about 5,000 hourly workers at the plant, said Tuesday. “It’s not good. This has been happening year after year in terms of down time in January, which is the worst month for sales coming right after Christmas.”

LouAnn Gosselin, spokeswoman for Chrysler Canada, would only say the company was attempting to “balance inventories.”

A spokeswoman said most workers will lost a week's worth of pay as a result of the shutdown. It comes on the heels of their regular week-long Christmas break shutdown.

Consumers appear to be more confident in the economy, and it showed in the salesrooms of American car companies last year.  

Chrysler saw the biggest improvement, with sales up 26 percent over 2010.

The company says its Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler 200 sedan were the most popular of the 16 new or revamped models it rolled out.

Ford sales rose 11 percent, driven by demand for its trucks and SUVs.

General Motors reports a 14 percent increase for 2010 bolstered by its passenger car sales, including the new Cruze and Sonic.

Don Johnson is GM’s vice president for U.S. Sales Operations. He says the company predicts more growth next year, but is keeping an eye out for bumps in the road:

"Clearly we have to, as always, keep our eye on oil and gas prices, and on the political environment as we prepare for an election in November.”

Altogether, U.S. automakers sold nearly 6 million vehicles in 2011.

Three big, new investments by automakers in one Ohio city are raising hopes for a revived economy. Chrysler and General Motors have promised to spend more than $800 million on retooling and expanding their factories in Toledo.

These moves announced in recent months will create at least 1,400 jobs and keep thousands more. Parts suppliers also are expected to add more jobs in and around Toledo.

Chrysler announced plans on Wednesday to build a new Jeep SUV at its Toledo assembly plant while adding 1,100 jobs. It also hinted that more work could be coming.

That's why Toledo Mayor Mike Bell calls the news "the equivalent of a blood transfusion for our city."

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The heads of two of Detroit’s car companies say they’re concerned about the debt crisis in Europe. 

European consumers are pulling back from buying cars because of fears about the Euro and the economy.   

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne on Wednesday said he’s hopeful the new leadership in Italy will help turn things around in that country.  But he says car sales in Europe could worsen through next year.   

At the Detroit Economic Club Thursday, GM CEO Dan Akerson said the crisis could damage more than car sales.  But he’s hopeful the U.S. economy has become more resilient.

"Could the United States withstand a recession in Europe?" he asked rhetorically.  "I think it could. "

Ford CEO Alan Mulally earlier this month took the most optimistic view, saying he expects some global economic growth next year, despite sovereign debt concerns.

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Chrysler plans to invest $1.7 billion dollars in a new Jeep program, that will first roll out a replacement for the current Jeep Liberty. 

The new Jeep is intended for a global market.    

The investment includes a $500 million re-tooling of the Jeep Liberty Assembly plant in Toledo. 

The investment means 1,100 new jobs at the Jeep Assembly Plant starting in 2013.  

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says the new Jeep should help tap growing overseas markets, like China, the world’s largest car market.  He says the Jeep brand is already taking off in Europe.

"I have similar expectations for Jeep especially in the eastern part of Europe – Russia," Marchionne told a group of reporters after a press conference at the plant.   "It  (Jeep) is best brand that Chrysler owns, by far."

The new SUV could still bear the Liberty name.  Marchionne says there could be at least one other "top-hat" built onto the new platform, and eventually, the plant could build up to four different models of Jeeps.  

The new Jeep will combine a Fiat chassis, or underlying platform with a Chrysler design and engine.

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While Chrysler is finally making money in the United States this year, financial uncertainty in Italy is hitting car sales there hard.   

Inventories are swelling, and incentives are rising.

Fiat lost $285 million in the third quarter of this year, and the overall economic situation doesn't bode well for the company's fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Chrysler made a modified operating profit of $483 million in the third quarter.

Michael Robinet is with IHS Automotive. He said the merger of the two companies is working the way it should. 

U.S. auto sales rose again last month, as pent-up demand for cars continues to overcome low consumer confidence in the economy. 

Chrysler’s sales increase was especially strong, as customers continue to return to the smallest of the Detroit Three car companies. 

The company's sales rose 27 percent over October last year. 

It was also the 19th straight month of sales increases for Chrysler.  

Michelle Krebs of Edmunds.com says Chrysler finally has new products to sell, like the new Jeep Compass, which outsold its predecessor by 566 percent. 

Krebs says Chrysler is also running good ads for its cars, like the instantly iconic Superbowl ad starring Eminem and the Chrysler 200.

"And it’s caused people to at least know that the company still exists," says Krebs, "when many people did not think the company would survive after its bankruptcy, and it’s catching the attention of buyers."

Nissan sales rose 18 percent, while sales declined nearly 8 percent at Toyota and 1 percent at Honda.  Both companies are recovering from inventory shortfalls related to the tsunami in Japan last spring.

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