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6 Hot Cars in January, Starting with Ford Fusion

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- January was a big month for hot cars, led by the Ford (F) Fusion, which showed a 65% sales gain, finally managing to fulfill its potential as dealers had sufficient inventory available.

In recent months, Ford has underperformed in the critical mid-sized sedan category because dealers didn't have enough Fusions. The lack of cars held back overall Ford sales since Fusion is generally Ford's top-selling car. With 22,399 sales in January, Fusion was the fourth best-selling U.S. car and the sixth best-selling vehicle, and Ford sales gained 22%.

But it wasn't just the Fusion that enabled a 14% industry sales jump in January and a seasonally adjusted annual sales rate of 15.3 million light vehicles.

The country is full of hot new cars, from the two that lead secondary brands Cadillac and Buick to the best symbol of Volkswagen growth in the U.S. to the new Toyota Avalon. Not to mention the 2013 Honda (HMC) Accord, the second best-selling U.S. car, which sold 10,000 more units this January than last January.

Auto sales were so strong in January that of all the 16 models sold by Chrysler, only one currently produced vehicle, the Dodge Caravan, showed a decline in sales, down 39% to 4,965.

If we were making a list of the month's Not-So-Hot cars, the top two vehicles would be Dodge Caravan and the new Lincoln MKZ, which showed a 73% decline to 453 units, reflecting slow deliveries of the 2013 model.

Ford sales chief Ken Czubay, speaking on the company's sales call, took pains to explain that MKZ deliveries are down because Ford is taking extra care to make final-stage quality checks. "We recognize that this is slowing our shipment of MKZs to our dealers and customers, but this is the right action to take for our reinvented Lincoln brand," he said.

Chevrolet Malibu would also make the list: sales rose 8% to 15,823, but probably should have been higher. "The impressive sales performance of most vehicles in the Chevy line-up help mask a significant issue: The all-new and high-volume Malibu's sales were up a bit but nowhere near what they should be for a new model," said Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs, in a prepared statement.

"The estimated true cost of incentives for Malibu averaged $3,200 per vehicle sold in January: lease subsidies alone averaged over $4,000 per Malibu sold in January," Krebs said. "By comparison, the Ford Fusion had blistering sales in January; they are selling as fast as Ford can make them."

But why focus on the negative? Here are the six hottest cars of January.

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