Chrysler said February sales fell 44%, but nevertheless was better than the other two Detroit automakers'.

Ford ( F) sales fell 48%, while General Motors ( GM) sales dropped 52.9%.

In a conference call with reporters, Chrysler executives sought to emphasize the company's retail sales, which declined 25%, compared with a projected industry retail decline of 36%. That enabled Chrysler to improve its retail market share to 11%, up 1.4 points. The company has sought to de-emphasize fleet sales, which are typically less profitable than retail sales: its fleet sales declined by 71%.

"Retail is the bulk of the market," said President Jim Press, in a sales conference call with reporters and analysts. "No one is going to make money just selling fleet."

Press challenged the assertion that Chrysler's retail improvement reflected its enhanced incentives. During the Ford sales call, executives said Ford was holding firm on its pricing despite unnamed competitors' incentives.

"Our competitors are defining us to you," Press told reporters. "We had a head start in reducing fixed costs (because) we started restructuring 17 months ago (and) we're in a pretty good financial position. It isn't at the expense of our profit targets."

Chrysler finished the month with an inventory of 350,966 vehicles, down 20% from a year earlier.

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