Chrysler 2Q profit is $436 million

DETROIT - Chrysler's almost total reliance on North America used to be a huge weakness, one that sent the company into bankruptcy protection.

Now, it's a major strength. The region is generating profit for the company as losses in Europe and slowing sales in South America and China drain other carmakers.

Chrysler Group L.L.C., which sells almost 90 percent of its cars and trucks in the United States and Canada, made a $436 million profit in the second quarter. It was a huge turnaround from a year earlier, when the company lost $370 million, mainly because it refinanced government-bailout loans.

The automaker, now majority-owned by Italy's Fiat SpA, also backed an earlier profit forecast of about $1.5 billion for the year. Such a performance would have been unthinkable three years ago, when Chrysler nearly ran out of cash and needed the bailout to survive.

Chrysler has emerged from bankruptcy protection with far lower costs, and it has saved money by using Fiat parts and expertise to engineer new models. Since exiting Chapter 11, it has rolled out a revamped Jeep Grand Cherokee, a highly profitable vehicle whose sales rose almost 40 percent in the first half of the year. The company also is making money on minivans and Ram pickups, said Joe Phillippi, a former Wall Street analyst who is now president of AutoTrends Consulting in Short Hills, N.J.

"The pickup market is picking up," he said, "and that's helping them a lot."

Chrysler also is propping up Fiat. Like other automakers, the Italian company is struggling with falling sales as Europeans pull back on car buying.

Chrysler's sales rose 23 percent to $16.8 billion in the second quarter. It also paid less in interest last quarter than a year earlier, saving $50 million with the refinancing of government loans.

The company's U.S. sales rose 24 percent in the quarter to 436,000, its best sales quarter since it left bankruptcy protection. Its share of the U.S. market went from 10.1 percent last year to 11.5 percent. In Canada, sales rose 7 percent in the first half of the year to just more than 130,000.

There may be trouble ahead, though. Chrysler, which made $909 million in the first half of the year, predicts that it will make less than $600 million in the second half as the global and U.S. economies slow.