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Japanese, US Automakers' Fortunes Are Reversing

Workers give a final check on the Honda Accord Tourer at Honda Motor Co.'s Saitama Factory in Sayama, north of Tokyo, April 18, 2011

The fortunes of American and Japanese automakers are reversing.

The three big automakers in the United States - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - all are profitable now after struggling financially during the world economic downturn that started in 2008. Meanwhile, Japan's top automakers - Toyota, Honda and Nissan - all are coping with reduced production since the March earthquake and tsunami damaged their operations and cut the manufacturing of parts at key suppliers. All three Japanese carmakers are expected to report substantial financial losses in the April-to-June period.

Toyota has been the world's largest carmaker since 2008, ending the long-time dominance of GM. Toyota sold 8.4 million vehicles last year, 30,000 more than General Motors.

Analysts now say, though, that GM could take over the top spot again this year. Toyota already has lost production of 500,000 vehicles because of the natural disasters and said that full production will not resume until the end of the year. Toyota's brand also has suffered as more than 10 million of its cars have been recalled over the last several years because of various safety issues.

On Wednesday, GM said it sold more than 232,000 vehicles in April in the U.S., a 26 percent increase over the 184,000 figure in the same month last year. Ford said its sales rose 13 percent to nearly 190,000 in April, while Nissan's increased 12 percent to more than 71,000.