updated 7/18/2005 1:23:11 PM ET 2005-07-18T17:23:11

You've got to hand it to General Motors. Though the company has such serious problems that even its biggest "competitor" is throwing public pity parties for it, a recent scan of the headlines would make you think GM is golden.

First, we had corporate value-unlocker Kirk Kerkorian appearing with a generous tender offer in May. A month later came rumors that the company would get tough with its unions and demand concessions on everything from wages to pensions to health-care benefits. Finally, the June sales numbers came out just a couple weeks back, and the news looked very good indeed -- a 41 percent year-over-year increase. That jump so impressed Ford and DaimlerChrysler that they're now imitating GM's ploy of selling cars at "employee discount prices." Put it all together, and you've got GM stock skyrocketing 40 percent in three months.

There's an awful lot of hoopla going on over in Detroit. I really don't mean to rain on anybody's parade, but there's a bit of just-released trivia worth examining before we all go ga-ga over "GM the Wonder Company."

I'm talking about J.D. Power & Associates' monthly tally of the "top 10 hottest models" selling in the U.S. It's calculated from the length of time cars sit on dealer lots before being sold. In April 2004, Toyota claimed six of the top ten slots on the list. Honda came in second with four winners, while Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick BMW took third with a single entry.

More than a year later, Toyota has increased its lead, claiming seven of the top ten slots. Its Prius hybrid remains the pick of the litter; each Prius takes an average of just eight days to move from a dealer's lot to a customer's driveway. And there's not so much a gap as a chasm between first and second place this year. BMW, Honda, and Nissan's Infiniti brand all tied for second place, each with just one car in the top 10.

Why is this survey significant? First, it shows that Toyota continues to dominate the mindshare of American car buyers. Second, in the same month when GM wowed critics and fans alike with its 41% jump in sales, not one GM vehicle made the top 10. A Fool might suspect, then, that GM's June success owed less to the popularity of its cars than the popularity of its discounts.

Are you a gearhead? Want to sound off about why Rich doesn't (or does) know a tailpipe from a steering column? Tell us all about it on The Motley Fool's Buying and Maintaining a Car board.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares in any company mentioned in this article. He buys his trucks from GM and his commuter cars from Nissan.


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