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.
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.