February Sales Roll In

General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp, which are dueling for industry leadership, paced industry sales during February as Ford and Chrysler continued to lose ground.

Ford was the biggest loser — its sales dropped 13 percent and it wound up in fourth place in overall sales despite an eight-percent decline in sales by DaimlerChrysler AG.

Toyota sales jumped 12.2 percent in February. It finished third in overall sales — just behind DaimlerChrysler.

GM executives were jubilant, however, as their company reversed a sales decline and posted a 3.4-percent sales increase, compared with February 2006.

“Our pickup, SUV, and crossover business was terrific across the board. Our customers are telling us that we have the winning formula - the best products, industry-leading fuel economy, and the best value,” said Mark LaNeve, vice president, GM North American Sales, Service and Marketing.

GM officials acknowledged sales were helped by the judicious use of incentives but they also noted that February's performance was led by the positive reception of the new GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickups. The Silverado had its best February sales month in five years, total full-size pickup sales were up 29 percent, and total truck sales were up more than seven percent compared with last February, according to Paul Ballew, GM general director of market analysis.

The new GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook also posted strong numbers, he noted.

Ballew also noted GM retail sales increased 11 percent. GM fleet sales were down 18 percent due to a planned 25-percent reduction in daily rental sales, he said.

George Pipas, Ford sales analyst, also emphasized cuts in fleet sales, specifically to rental fleets, contributed to the double-digit drop in the company’s total sales.

Steve Landry, Chrysler Group vice president of sales, also said Chrysler deliberately trimmed back fleet sales.

Both Pipas and Landry indicated their companies were preparing to launch new incentives to bolster sales during the next few months.

“The path of incentives seems to have increased as we moved from January to February. It’s hard to see anyone backing off as we go forward through the model year,” Pipas added.

Jim Lentz, executive vice president at Toyota Motor Sales USA, said that February was another solid month for the Japanese auto giant. “Sales were brisk at both ends of our product lineup,” said Lentz. “Setting an all-time record, the Prius hybrid led the way, nearly doubling last February's sales pace; while the new full-size Tundra got off to an impressive start since hitting showrooms February 5th,” he added.

Both the Toyota and Lexus divisions posted sales record, he added.

Nissan sales increased 4.5 percent on the strength of the new Altima and new G35. Sales of the Nissan Quest also jumped last month. Honda posted a 3.2-percent sales increase last month. Subaru and Mitsubishi also posted double-digit sales increases last month.

Kia sales rose 13 percent, while Hyundai sales increased a modest 1.4 percent.

Mercedes-Benz sales were essentially flat but Audi sales increased 37 percent and BMW sales increased 12.9 percent, even though sales of the MINI fell 13 percent during a model change.

Volkswagen also reported that its sales were essentially flat last month.

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