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Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

August was a good month for U.S. automakers compared to a year ago. In total, the big three sold more than 585,700 vehicles last month.

Chrysler had its best month since August 2007, according to the AP, and had sales of more than 148,000 vehicles. They say their sales were led by demand for the Dodge Ram pickup truck.

Ford sold 197,249 vehicles in August, and in a press release said high gas prices led more people to their lineup of vehicles.

“As fuel prices rose again during August, we saw growing numbers of people gravitate toward our fuel-efficient vehicles – cars, utilities and trucks,” said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service.

And General Motors sold 240,520 vehicles in August. More than Ford or Chrysler.

In their press release, GM said it's ready for gradual improvements in the economy.

“The single message Chevrolet communicated this summer was ‘confidence’ and it rang true with customers when they saw how our product lineup is being transformed,” said Kurt McNeil, vice president of U.S. sales operations. “All four of our brands are building momentum behind new products so we’re very well positioned as the economy continues to slowly improve.”

American Axle told the Detroit Free Press this morning it plans to "add 400 to 500 jobs in the next couple years" at its Three Rivers driveline plant in southwest Michigan. The company builds drivetrains and driveline systems and components for auto and truck manufacturers. Its biggest customers are Chrysler and GM.

User: dmealiffe / flickr.com

The Canadian Auto Workers union said today its members have voted to strike against Chrysler, Ford, and GM, if necessary.

The Detroit News reports the CAW is negotiating new contracts with the automakers. Current contracts are set to expire on September 17:

The CAW is expected to meet with the automakers Monday and Tuesday in downtown Toronto.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Brewer wants IRS to investigate Durant

The Michigan Democratic Party wants the International Revenue Service to investigate Clark Durant. Durant one of the Republicans vying to run against Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow this November. Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer says Durant's salary - and his daughter's salary - use up 95-percent of the money in a charity meant to help children attend private religious schools in Detroit. Brewer says an outside attorney believes that's illegal. Durant says the claim is nothing but political theatre.   

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Chrysler continues to mend.

The company's revenues increased 23 percent in the second quarter of 2012.

The company said its net income rose from $181 million to $436 million.

Last year, Chrysler's profit took a hit because the company had to pay a $551 million dollar charge to pay off its government loans early.

The good Chrysler news is expected to be followed on Tuesday by much worse news from the company's majority owner, Fiat.

Jeep Liberty
Jeep Liberty / Facebook.com

The Detroit Free Press' Brent Snavely reported today that Chrysler plans to close its Mack Avenue Engine II plant in Detroit this September. The company plans to replace the engine built there with a different one made in Chrysler plants in Trenton, Mich. and in Saltillo, Mexico, reports the Detroit News.

Robust U.S. auto sales have been helping to keep a floor on the U.S. economy for months, and they kept up the good work in June.

Car sales surpassed the expectations of many analysts.   

The good news included Detroit car companies.  Ford sales rose 7% and Chrysler sales jumped 20% compared to June a year ago.

General Motors sales increased nearly 16%.

GM's Kurt McNeil says he expects a good second half of the year, too.

Chrysler Media

Toyota reported a sales increase in May of 87% compared to the same month a year ago - when the company's vehicle production had plummeted due to the tsunami hitting Japan in March.  

There were more selling days this month than last May, but it is still a robust recovery from the disaster, which reduced inventories on Toyota dealer lots and sent some customers to other car companies.

Toyota remains number three in overall sales in the U.S., however, just behind Ford, which saw its sales increase 13% in May.

Chrysler-Group / flickr

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.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder’s focus will be on automotive and alternative energy companies on his first official business trip to Europe.

Transportation equipment and chemicals account for more than half of Michigan’s $6 billion in annual exports to Europe.

The governor will start out in Turin, Italy, meeting with executives at Fiat and other companies. Fiat is the parent company of Chrysler.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

GENEVA (AP) - Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says he may shift the date of the Dodge Dart's production launch off of April 1 to "to avoid being jinxed" by an April Fool's Day launch.

The Dodge Dart is the first Chrysler model to use Fiat architecture under the nearly three-year-old alliance.

Marchionne on Tuesday called the Dodge Dart "a huge step forward in terms of moving the brand into the American heartland."

Fiat, which controls a 58.8 percent share of Chrysler, sells the city car 500 in the United States, hitting sales of 2 million last year.

It plans to bring over the 500L - a larger version of the 500 that was launched at the Geneva Motor Show on Tuesday - in 2013.

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.

screen grab from YouTube video

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

Richardo Giaviti / Flickr

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.

AP Photo

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.

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