CINCINNATI – Buy American? That’s suddenly a good idea again to more car buyers.

Toyota’s safety problems and a buffed-up lineup of offerings from Detroit’s Big 3 are rubbing the tarnish off car buyers’ perceptions of U.S. models. An Associated Press-GfK Poll shows that 38 percent favor U.S. vehicles while 33 percent prefer Asian brands, a significant improvement for U.S. automakers compared to four years ago.

“Really, the American car industry has opened its eyes,” said Jose Nunez, 24, a customer at Planet Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Miami on Wednesday. “And it’s really giving the people what they want, what they need. I think after all we’ve been through, definitely the three big companies are responding to it.”

The findings provide fuel for U.S. automakers who are getting sales and swagger back after a bleak period of huge financial losses, job cuts and market share declines. General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC needed government help just to survive.

Watching an iconic American industry beaten down amid the Great Recession may be one reason Americans are giving U.S. automakers a closer look.

“I think Americans are beginning to realize the significance of the America’s auto industry to its history and to its future, and we’re a bit more sensitive now to what will be its fate,” John Heitmann, an auto historian at the University of Dayton.

Veronica Sullivan, 41, typified that approach as she finalized the paperwork at a suburban Buffalo, N.Y., dealership on her new Ford Focus.

“Keep the wages in the American hand, supplying jobs for Americans. Why not keep the cash flow where we are and benefit for ourselves?” Sullivan said. “And I think also that Ford, for myself, builds a really good car.”

The poll results are encouraging to Tom Gill, who owns a Chevrolet dealership just off Interstate 75 in Florence, Ky. — in the heart of the so-called “Auto Alley” region loaded with auto-related businesses and plants. The veteran dealer often uses the American flag and patriotic pitches in his advertising.

“With all that said, the General Motors product line, the Ford product line, have just really been producing hit after hit,” said Gill, citing the Chevrolet Malibu and Camaro as current hot sellers. He says his sales are up 30 percent so far this year.

Peggy Hyatt, a 52-year-old worker at the Kansas City plant who moved there after being laid off in Georgia, echoed that sentiment.

“We may have had hard times before, but now we’re coming back,” Hyatt said.

In a December 2006 AP-AOL poll, 46 percent said Asian countries made superior cars, while just 29 percent said American automakers did.