TOKYO – What a difference a year makes. Last January, Japanese auto makers were hemorrhaging in the face of the worst economic downturn in more than half a century. Global sales had dropped by more than 20% and would continue to free fall for several more months. Shrinking credit markets in North America and Europe, coupled with a near-record strong yen, virtually wiped out profits from exports as Japanese plant utilization was cut by more than one-third to 1970s levels. But one year ...

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