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Chrysler a rising star among automakers

– In just three years, Chrysler has gone from government ward to rising star.

The No. 3 U.S. automaker made $1.7 billion last year, thanks to big gains for its much-improved cars and trucks, and it’s expecting profits to reach $2.2 billion this year.

It’s a big improvement over 2011, when Chrysler earned $138 million. And it’s even more remarkable considering that Chrysler was in bankruptcy and living on taxpayer loans just three years ago.

The improving U.S. economy is one reason for Chrysler’s success. Auto sales in the U.S. – where Chrysler sells three out of every four of its vehicles – rose to a five-year high of 14.5 million last year. They could climb to 15.5 million or more this year, most industry analysts say.

But Chrysler rose even faster than average, with its U.S. sales up 21 percent compared with 13 percent for the industry. That’s because new or recently revamped products like the Dodge Dart small car, Ram pickup and Jeep Grand Cherokee are putting Chrysler back on buyers’ shopping lists after years of quality concerns and flagging demand. Sales of the Chrysler 300 sedan nearly doubled in 2012; so did sales of the tiny Fiat 500.

Chrysler also made more on every car it sold. Customers paid an average of $29,630 for a Chrysler vehicle last year, up about $1,000 from the year before, according to auto pricing site TrueCar.com.

Revenue increased 20 percent to $65.8 billion last year. Chrysler expects higher revenue of between $72 billion and $75 billion this year.

Fueling the growth is a revived truck market that is seeing growth as home construction improves.

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