) -- February was another strong month for auto sales, with an expected increase in the 20% range and with a particularly big increase for


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But GM's increase, estimated by to be around 36% compared with the same month a year ago, was apparently fueled by incentive spending. "General Motors continues to have the highest market share, but it also leads the other Big Six automakers in incentive spending by a healthy margin," said analyst Jessica Caldwell, in a prepared statement. The firm estimated GM February market share at 20.7%, up from 18.1% in February 2010 but down from 21.8% in January 2011.

On the GM earnings conference call last week, CFO Chris Liddell said incentives as a percentage of average transaction price were around the industry average in the fourth quarter, but rose to 1.26% of industry average in January. "Our strategy hasn't changed," Liddell said."We are at or around industry average level as a percentage of ATP. In particular months we are going to vary from that."

Mark Reuss, president of GM North America, said that in January and February, "You will see that we did some things that post-bankruptcy needed to be done from a loyalty (basis), a conquest basis. ... These are very targeted things. They worked better than what we thought they would. (But) we don't expect any type of consistent ride on any of that." estimated industry average incentive spending to be $2,708 per vehicle in February, with GM incentive spending at $3,683 per vehicle.

Meanwhile, said February's seasonally adjusted annualized rate to be 12.64 million, up from 12.54 million in January. "It was the fifth consecutive month with a SAAR over 12 million, which is a good sign as the industry presses forward into March," Caldwell said.

However, the retail SAAR was flat at about 10.1 Million, said. J.D. Power estimated February retail sales will total about 727,500 units, for a SAAR of 10.3 million. "Retail sales in February got off to a slow start due to the snowstorms that affected the country from the Midwest to the Northeast," said Jeff Schuster, J.D. Power executive director of global forecasting, in a prepared statement. "However, the market rebounded quickly in the days that followed, leading to a slightly stronger selling rate than in January," he said.

Edmunds estimated that Ford

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sales were up 7% while Chrysler sales rose 3.7%. Toyota

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rose an estimated 28.8%. Toyota's market share is estimated to be 13.7%, up from 12.8% a year earlier but down from 14.1% in January. Toyota's share "has fallen to its lowest level since its issues with unintended acceleration reached its peak this time last year," Caldwell said. "It can't start rolling out their new products fast enough."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte.


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Ted Reed