ToyotaThe headline: Sales of Toyota, Lexus and Scion cars were down 8.7% from the year before, with a 10.6% drop in sales under the Toyota brand largely because of the company's safety recalls. The situation was so grim that the company announced a March incentive plan that features 60 months of no-interest financing on 80% of its vehicles; $179-a-month Corolla leases and $199-a-month Camry leases; and two years or 24,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance for current Toyota owners who buy new models. The hidden gem: Despite a recall for braking issues, the Prius experienced an 11.6% sales bump from January and a 10.6% upswing from the same period last year. Meanwhile, sales of the 4Runner SUV rose 54% year-over-year, while the Lexus division managed a 5.2% gain.
FordThe headline: Ford ( F) put some serious shoe leather to its Detroit siblings at General Motors. Sales climbed 43% and beat GM's for the first time since the Clinton Administration. The hidden gem: The Ford Fusion made its presence felt, with its sales doubling from a year earlier.
General MotorsThe headline: After trimming Pontiac, Saab and Saturn, GM's sales bounced 32%. The hidden gem: Buick led all GM brands with a 47% sales increase from last year. On the other end of the spectrum, Hummer's fate wasn't even sealed when its sales plunged 71.9% in February, when fewer than 300 vehicles were sold. A nearly zombified Saturn sold nearly triple that.
ChryslerThe headline: It's still here, and managed to sell 400 more vehicles than it did last February to generate a 38% increase in sales.
The hidden gem: The Chrysler Sebring, favored by the boss in NBC's sitcom The Office, led the pack by doubling its sales from a year ago as its parent company pared down its models. Jeep's Compass and Commander also posted triple-digit gains, while Dodge Avenger and Charger sales increased more than 50%.
DaimlerThe headline: Daimler ( DAI) sold 15,385 Mercedes vehicles, an 8.4% improvement from last February. The hidden gem: Daimler's undergrown offspring, Smart USA, boosted sales nearly 60% since January, but saw sales plummet 68.8% since last February. Even for a two-seater, that's uncomfortable.
HondaThe headline: Honda's ( HMC) sales rose 12% as the Toyota Camry's troubles boosted Accord sales more than 40% from last year. Acura sales also jumped 16.2% The hidden gem: Though sales of hybrid models increased 73.3% to 2,360, Toyota's Prius alone still topped that total by more than 5,000 vehicles.
NissanThe headline: The entire company's sales rose 30% from last February, with Nissan sales up 32% and Infinity sales climbing 11%. The hidden gem: Credit Toyota for the higher-end Maxima's 89.5% sales boost, but thank a polarized consumer base for doubling sales of Versa subcompacts and Armada SUVs.
SubaruThe headline: Subaru's 38% sales increase from last February was driven by a 95% jump in Legacy sales and a whopping 156% hike in Outback wagon purchases. The hidden gem: There may be a bit of cannibalism among the ranks, as both the Outback's design and sales figures begin to resemble the Forester SUV. While more than 6,000 of each were sold in February, Outback's year-to-date sales have grown 138% compared to 1% for its bigger stablemate.
HyundaiThe headline: Hyundai sales grew 11% from last year and the company gained market share against Toyota. The Kia division grew 9%, selling 8,207 Sorento SUVs. The hidden gem: So Hyundai's Toyota-based incentives must have bruised the margins a bit, right? Maybe not. According to Edmunds.com, Hyundai spent nearly $1,700 less per car on incentives last month than it did in February 2009.