[email protected] Hot sellers - The North American car and truck of the year are both new GM products By JOHN K. TEAHEN JR. | AUTOMOTIVE NEWS 03/08/07, 10:43 am et February was a pretty good month for the auto industry in the United States. But you'd make a grave mistake to generalize about the month's sales. You have to ask each manufacturer individually. You'll get almost as many answers as there are automakers. Dealers delivered 1,255,105 new cars and light trucks in February, 0.5 percent (6,564 vehicles) fewer than in February 2006. The sales total was smack dab in the middle of the past five years -- better than in 2005 and 2003 but not quite as good as in 2004 and 2006. At General Motors, the answer to your sales query would be: "We're very pleased." Sales of GM's domestic-brand cars and trucks rose 3.9 percent last month, its first year-to-year upturn since last November. Single out Chevrolet, and you'll hear cheers in the background. A spokesperson will shout: "Hey, Silverado beat the F series!" Ford's big pickup has been the nation's sales leader almost forever. Chevrolet's last win was in June 2005, the first month of a GM employee-pricing giveaway. Ford had no such program. GM's good fortune in February was entirely the work of Chevrolet and Saturn. Chevrolet's sales were up 5.6 percent. Saturn piled up a monthly gain of 59.4 percent on strong sales of the Vue and the new Aura and Outlook. A bummer for some Steer clear of Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group with your sales question. February was a bummer for both companies. Sales of Ford's domestic brands were down 13.9 percent from the year-ago month; the Chrysler group was down 8.3 percent. Ford's loss followed a 19.6 percent setback in January, while Chrysler was up 0.5 percent that month. GM and Ford said they were pleased by a decline in less-profitable fleet sales to rental companies in February. GM was overjoyed by an 11 percent gain in retail sales. Ask Toyota Motor Sales about February sales, and the answer probably will be: "Oh, pretty good." Toyota is reluctant to brag about its sales prowess, fearing a protectionist backlash in Congress. But Toyota Motor Sales had a solid 12.2 percent gain last month for its Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands. Put the same question to Nissan North America Inc. and American Honda Motor Co. Inc., and they'll tell you: "Not bad." American Honda was up 3.2 percent for the month, and Honda and Acura brand sales set a February record. Nissan North America climbed 1.2 percent. GM pointed proudly to its February market share of 24.4 percent for domestic brands. That's a full percentage point ahead of last year and GM's highest share since last July. Ford Motor's domestic brands recorded a 15.7 percent share of U.S. sales, down 2.5 points from last year. It was Ford's best showing since last October. The Chrysler group lost 1.2 points last month, to 13.9 percent. But the Detroit 3 stepped back from the precipice nonetheless. Their combined February share for domestic makes was 54.0 percent -- down 2.6 points from the year-ago month but not as scary as January's 50.5 percent. Never before had Detroit come so close to a 50-50 split with import automakers. Toyota Motor added 1.7 points and wound up with 14.9 percent of the February pie. Nissan and Honda posted fractional gains. Trucks good, cars bad Trucks outsold cars in February, as the latter had a bad month. The breakout: trucks, 53.3 percent; cars, 46.7 percent. Pickup sales rose 1.5 percent in February. Minivans dropped 17.4 percent. Crossovers saved the trucks' bacon with a jump of 20.0 percent. Sales of entry-level SUVs zoomed up 24.6 percent for the month because of the Dodge Nitro and Toyota FJ Cruiser, which weren't around a year ago, and the Jeep Wrangler. For the 2007 model year, Jeep has discovered that a four-door Wrangler is a good horse to have in the stable. Mid-sized SUVs continued their downward sales spiral with a loss of 22.5 percent in February, and full-sized SUVs were off 2.9 percent. But sales of the highest-priced SUVs rose 6.6 percent. Apparently, folks who can afford Cadillac Escalades and Mercedes GLs don't pay much attention to rising gasoline prices. As a group, SUV sales dipped 5.9 percent in February.