Mazda, Subaru Rev Up Amid Toyota Troubles

DETROIT (TheStreet) -- Toyota's (TM) loss was everyone else's gain in February. But sales data show there's much more going on under the hood of the U.S. auto industry.

Carmakers blow a cloud of numbers out of their exhaust pipes each month for a reason. That numerical haze hides a bigger picture of brands disappearing from the map and tastes in models shifting faster than rush-hour commuters.

We took a look at the reports and attempted to parse the puffery from the prescient. As usual, each carmaker was showing a lot more than it was telling:


The 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.


The 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 Motors

The 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.


The 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%.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The 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, Hyundai spent nearly $1,700 less per car on incentives last month than it did in February 2009.


The headline: A nearly 30% improvement in Mazda3's sales powered the company to a 4% gain over last February's tally.

The hidden gem: The Mazda3, CX-7 and CX-9 were the rare bright spots, as the company's nine other models posted double-digit declines.


The headline: Mitsubishi sales dropped 1% from a year earlier as the company sold 4,019 cars.

The hidden gem: Sales of its Galant model rose 42% from the same time last year, while Endeavor sales soared 162%.


The headline: With sales jumping 32.6% from last February and year-to-date sales climbing 36.9% from this time last year, practical models like the hard-to-pronounce Tiguan are paving the way.

The hidden gem: Not really. The sporty GTI models sold 166% more than they did last February, while the gas-guzzling Routan SUV sales climbed 122.7%.

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.

Jason Notte is a reporter for His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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