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Car comeback
Auto sales quite brisk in September, though the strongest sales were with Japanese brands

Date published: 10/8/2012

THANK GOODNESS Americans' automobile amore has weathered the economic storm. Sales figures for September show that new vehicles were zooming off dealers' lots at the fastest pace in four years.

This is welcome news in a fiscal climate that is a long way from hale. Not only does it mean that people are willing to spend some money on big-ticket items, it also causes automakers to hire workers to build them.

But the sales figures also provide a detailed look at the types of vehicles that are selling--and the companies that are building the most popular models.

Without a doubt, Detroit is enjoying a fledgling renaissance. Four years ago, the American automobile industry was on its deathbed. Both the outgoing President Bush and the incoming President Obama decided the industry needed to be propped up for the good of the free-falling U.S. economy. GM and Chrysler took the handouts, but Ford did not.

The wisdom behind the $85 billion bailouts may be debated for years to come--especially in that GM, for example, is still on the hook for $23 billion of the taxpayers' money, largely because its stock is down by a third from its high in January 2011. But the bailouts were not designed just to save Detroit's bacon; they were supposed to help the automakers retool their plants as they designed and built new and more efficient models that people would actually buy. Achievement of this novel goal remains a work in progress.

Just as long-troubled baseball teams like the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles have had to win consistently to earn the trust of their fans, U.S. automakers must continue to prove themselves worthy to compete with the successful Asian franchises.

While Toyota's sales are up 41.5 percent and Honda's 31 percent, GM registered a modest 1.5 percent gain. Chrysler sales, meanwhile, rose 11.5 percent.

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