Mercedes, Buick Sales Rise as Drivers Upgrade

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Luxury vehicle sales numbers are often like the cars themselves -- pretty from afar, but gaudy and overblown upon further inspection. February's tally was no different.

After delaying car purchases and curbing spending during the economic recession, consumers are peeling out of dealerships inside new Buick, Mercedes and Infiniti models. Except for Toyota's namesake brand, U.S. sales of luxury cars rose last month at most automakers.

A quick look at the numbers reveals the vehicles living the high life and the cars whose Champagne tastes outstrip their Coors Light demand.

General Motors

Buick ran down its upscale competitors as sales jumped 47%, including a 163% boost from its LaCrosse sedan. Cadillac posted a 32% gain despite flagging sales from each of its mainstay sedan models. If not for significant gains by two Escalade SUV models and a more than 540% sales spike by its SRX crossover, Cadillac's sales would seem as dried up as the Corvette's, which dropped by more than a third.

Toyota

Sales of Toyota's ( TM) Avalon fell 65% from 2,100 a year ago to just 732 last month. While sales of Toyota Land Cruisers and FJ Cruiser SUVs fell, Lexus-brand SUV sales rose 5.8% as sales of GX models nearly tripled.

Lexus managed a 5.2% increase overall, though a 4.5% jump in car sales was fueled by its LS, the only model to report gains last month.

Ford

Ford's ( F) Crown Victoria couldn't capitalize on the Avalon's weakness, losing 23% of its sales from a year earlier, but its Taurus delivered a 93% boost as the Lincoln and Volvo divisions gained momentum.

Lincoln sales were up 18% as the MKX drew 58% more sales last month than it did last February, while the bulky Navigator SUV bucked the crossover trend and posted a more than 48% sales gain. Even the Town Car managed a 1.2% sales boost. Volvo sales, meanwhile, grew 38% as sales of its midlife-crisis convertibles doubled at the same rate as its warhorse wagons.

Mercedes Benz

The good news is sales of Daimler's ( DAI) Mercedes models rose 8.4%. The bad news is that car sales, minus the sale of 515 Sprinter commercial vans, rose at half the pace. While the popular C- and E-class luxury cars posted 6% and 92% gains respectively, any Mercedes that wasn't a G-Class SUV or a G- or M-Class crossover suffered double-digit declines.

Audi

This was one of the few luxury labels that actually put some horsepower behind its soaring sales numbers. Audi's 34% increase came on the back of its A3 and A5 models, which more than doubled their sales. In the A3's case, new high-mileage TDI diesel models made up more than half of its take. Sales of A4 and A6 sedans and the Q5 crossover accelerated by double-digit percentages.

Chrysler

Chrysler's still selling luxury vehicles? The 300 is in the Avalon's class and still managed a 62% sales bump from February 2009. On the other side of the coin is the Dodge Viper, which saw its sales drop 50% from 47 in February 2009 to 24 last month. Not surprisingly, Chrysler announced last month that its new batch of 32 Viper SRT10s would be its last. Chrysler's luxury future will only improve if partner Fiat brings its Ferrari and Alfa Romeo models into the fold.

Nissan

The company's Infiniti division was one of the few luxury labels whose cars carried the day. Infiniti's 11% uptick over February 2009 came as its G series sedans and coupes recorded 25% and 41% gains, respectively -- boosting car sales more than 15%. While sales of Infiniti's QX56 SUV more than tripled in the same period, its EX and FX crossover wagons put a double-digit drag on its truck sales.

Honda

You get the feeling Honda's ( HMC) next Acura model will be named the Loss Leader. Despite a 17% upswing in overall sales, its TL, TSX and RL coupe and sedan sales slumped, with the RLs dropping 30%. Its RDX and MDX crossovers, however, revved up their sales by nearly 19% and 65%, respectively.

Hyundai

While the company isn't synonymous with luxury, Hyundai's Genesis is taking a larger chunk of the upscale sedan market. While its Azera model's sales slumped by more than a third, the Genesis' market has grown by a similar margin and has emerged as viable competitor to Lexus and Acura's mid-level offerings.

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

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