Japanese auto makers Mitsubishi and Suzuki have struggled financially in the U.S., and apparently so have many of their customers.

The Mitsubishi Galant sedan and the Suzuki SX4 compact rank first and second, respectively as cars most often purchased by consumers with imperfect credit, according to Edmunds.com.

Forty-three percent of Galant buyers and 41% of SX4 purchasers are in subprime credit categories, says Edmunds.com, basing that on people who secure auto loans at interest rates of 10% or higher.

Among the top 10 models bought by subprime customers, four were Chrysler brands: the Dodge Avenger, with 39% of buyers having low-credit scores; Dodge Caliber (36%); Chrysler 200 (24%); and Dodge Journey (21%).

Chrysler has ended production of the Caliber.

Other vehicles on the list are entry-level compacts: the Kia Forte with 37% of buyers in the subprime bracket; Nissan Sentra (26%), Nissan Versa (21%) and Chevrolet Sonic (21%).   

The auto industry has led the charge in the slow post-recession economic recovery. Sales are expected to increase 12% this year, according to WardsAuto. Much of the improvement is because of the return of subprime lending.

It all but disappeared as lenders tightened the reins during the credit crisis of 2008 and 2009. During the darkest days of the recession, those with poor credit had a hard time getting car loans

But financial institutions now are lending more, and banks have increased their subprime share of the market by 65%.

Although the subprime-mortgage industry suffered heavy losses, subprime auto lending didn’t.

There was an increase in auto-loan defaults during the recession, but not to the catastrophic levels of the housing industry. Some financial analysts say subprime auto lending performed better during the recession than what might have been expected. 

The auto-loan default rate is dropping as the economy improves. That rate hit its lowest level in the eight-year history of the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices.

The firms reported the default rate for vehicle contracts ticked lower to 1.03% in May, down from April’s 1.07%.

“Consumer default rates continue to fall, and we are reaching new lows across all the loan types,” says David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee for S&P Indices.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com