In some ways, Ford is actually a victim of its own success. This was the company's 11th straight quarterly profit, and it was the first quarter since 2006 that the company paid a more typical tax rate of 32.5 percent compared with the 8 percent it had been paying. Ford decided at the end of last quarter to return some deferred tax credits and other assets to its books because it is solidly profitable. The change cost the company $612 million, Shanks said.
General Motors Co., which has not yet made a similar move, reported a 10-percent tax rate in its fourth-quarter earnings.
GM is expected to post results similar to Ford's when it releases first-quarter earnings next Thursday. Analysts polled by FactSet expect net income of $1.4 billion, less than half of what GM reported a year earlier. Half of last year's profit came from the sale of a stake in parts maker Delphi Corp.
Chrysler Group reported its best quarterly profit in 13 years on Thursday. The company earned $473 million in the first quarter, mainly from strong U.S. sales, which rose 39 percent during the quarter.
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