The recession hasn't exactly come to an end, but the first-quarter returns from General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. were better than expected. GM's global automotive operations earned $467 million during the first quarter, up from $20 million year-ago. Income for GM North America totaled $625 million vs. $120 million in like-2001, and its net profit margin improved to 2.25% from 0.5%. GM even bolstered its rainy day fund to $17.3 billion from year-ago's $11.5 billion.

Ford ratchets up its North American production 12.3%, despite its net loss of $800 million, or $0.06 per share, compared to $1.06 billion net income generated during first quarter 2001. Analysts expected a loss per share of $0.15. For the year, Ford expects to parallel last year's performance with a North American production schedule of 4 million units. In 2001, Ford built about 6,800 fewer vehicles than that total, according to Ward's data.

DaimlerChrysler AG released its earnings after presstime, but Chairman Juergen Schrempp said in early April that “the Chrysler Group will report slightly positive operating results” for the first quarter. Information to date indicates Chrysler Group will break even this year.