DETROIT — Ford posted a 43 percent jump in February U.S. auto sales and outsold General Motors for the first time in nearly a dozen years as it grabbed sales from struggling Toyota.
Ford's sales surged thanks to strong demand for its cars and because it was able to grab some customers from Toyota, whose sales fell 9 percent due to its massive safety recall.
Analysts had expected Toyota to see a double-digit drop in sales for the month, but the Japanese automaker jacked up incentive spending to lure buyers.
Ford sold 334 more cars than GM in February, its first victory over its U.S. rival since August 1998, when GM was in the midst of a strike.
GM reported an 11.5 percent increase, helped by new models and Toyota's woes.
Besides Ford and GM, other winners included Kia, Honda and Nissan. Even struggling Chrysler saw improvement, reporting its February sales rose half a percent, its first year-over-year monthly increase since December 2007.
Most carmakers offered deals to Toyota customers for trading in their vehicles. According to auto industry tracker Edmunds.com, incentive spending rose 11 percent from January to $2,588 per vehicle. Toyota's incentive spending rose 26 percent, to $1,833 per vehicle.
The industry was expecting to see gains over February 2009, which was one of the weakest months in a very depressed year. Still, winter storms at the beginning and end of the month hurt sales on the East Coast and in the Midwest. GM said its sales dropped 22 percent in the Northeast region. The corridor from Boston to Washington typically accounts for about a quarter of the automaker's U.S. sales.
Ford had expected sales to climb from last February, when U.S. sales plummeted in the midst of the recession. Its car sales climbed 54 percent as consumers continued to shop for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Like GM, Ford saw renewed demand from corporate fleet customers, which are buying again after weak sales in 2009. Ford's fleet sales surged 74 percent over February of last year, while GM's jumped 114 percent.
Surging sales of large wagons helped Japan's Subaru, which said its February U.S. sales jumped 38 percent, led by the Outback and Legacy sedan. Both vehicles got a redesign for the 2010 model year. Sales of its Forester SUV were up 6 percent.