updated 3/1/2006 5:03:31 PM ET 2006-03-01T22:03:31

Honda Motor Co. was a star in an otherwise ho-hum February for automakers, posting a 9 percent increase in U.S. sales over a year ago on the strength of its redesigned Civic sedan. Others reported more modest gains and declines on Wednesday, but said sales should pick up this spring as more new vehicles hit the market.

Honda said its car sales climbed 11 percent in February, with the Civic posting a 37 percent sales increase, while truck and sport utility sales rose 5 percent. Honda’s U.S. sales jumped 14 percent for the first two months of the year.

“The American consumer is rediscovering cars and the timing for the all-new 2006 Civic couldn’t be better,” American Honda’s Executive Vice President Dick Colliver said in a statement.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s U.S. sales rose 2 percent in February, a weaker than usual performance for the No. 1 Japanese automaker. Toyota’s car sales dropped 3 percent as buyers waited for the redesigned Camry to hit the market in March. But Toyota’s pickup sales made up for those losses, with the Tacoma rising 26 percent and the Tundra up 11 percent for the month.

Toyota’s overall sales were up nearly 8 percent for the year. Jim Press, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said spring sales should pick up because of new products and robust economic growth in the first quarter.

General Motors Corp. said sales of its domestic brands fell 3 percent in February, as car sales dipped 14 percent. Sales of trucks and SUVs rose 5 percent as GM’s redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe hit the market. GM said Tahoe sales — at 15,431 in February — are exceeding expectations, and expects that boom will continue as the redesigned GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade reach the market this month. Overall sales for the nation’s biggest automaker rose 1 percent for the year.

Paul Ballew, GM’s executive director of market and industry analysis, said GM was pleased with its performance because it relied less heavily on incentives and fleet sales than in the past. Ballew said GM’s incentive spending was down $1,000 per vehicle from last February, while sales to corporate and government fleets fell to 25 percent of overall sales, down from 30 percent a year ago.

Ballew said GM expects to lose some U.S. market share as it pulls back on fleet sales, particularly to rental car agencies. But he said the change is necessary because fleet sales are less profitable and can hurt resale values by flooding the market with used vehicles.

“Quite simply, we need to back off on rental,” Ballew said. “It’s very consistent with the overall restructuring plan in North America.”

JPMorgan auto analyst Himanshu Patel praised GM’s effort even though he predicted a negative reaction on Wall Street. Patel said GM’s results looked healthier than in recent months because of the drop in fleet sales.

Other automakers relied more heavily on fleet sales in February. Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. sales analysis manager George Pipas said fleet sales made up 41 percent of Ford’s February sales. Chrysler doesn’t release monthly fleet numbers, but Ballew said Chrysler’s fleet sales were around 37 percent of its sales.

Pipas said Ford wants to cut back on fleet sales, and predicts annual fleet sales will be up less than last year, when they rose 6 percent. But he said Ford’s main goal right now is stabilizing its retail sales.

Sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars climbed 11 percent for the first two months of this year, thanks to the success of Ford’s trio of new sedans, the Ford Fusion, Lincoln Zephyr and Mercury Milan. But the No. 2 U.S. automaker’s truck and SUV sales fell nearly 7 percent in the same time frame, as sales of SUVS including the Explorer and Expedition dropped 20 percent or more. Ford’s overall sales were flat for the year.

DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group said its U.S. sales rose 3 percent in February, bolstered by a zero-percent financing incentive and fleet sales. Chrysler’s car sales climbed 18 percent, but truck and SUV sales dropped 2 percent. Chrysler’s sales were up 4 percent for the first two months of the year.

Chrysler said Wednesday it’s extending the zero-percent financing offer through the end of March. The incentive, originally scheduled to end this week, covers minivans, Dodge Ram pickups, the Chrysler Pacifica crossover and several SUVs, including the Dodge Durango and Jeep Commander.

Nissan Motor Co. said sales rose 2 percent in February, largely due to increased demand for its Nissan Murano crossover and Infiniti M45 sedan. The Japanese automaker’s sales were flat for the year.

The Associated Press reports unadjusted figures, calculating the percentage change in the total number of vehicles sold in one month compared with the same month a year earlier. Some automakers report percentages that are adjusted for the number of sales days in a month.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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